Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 | 8:29 a.m.
World-class jazz guitarist Robert Conti mesmerizes fans with his musical wizardry.
The 57-year-old native of south Philadelphia probably could be a monster success on the national and international concert circuits, but he is content with his new gig performing for diners at one of the area's newest restaurants.
He says isn't a big fan of touring, and he likes the atmosphere of Las Vegas.
"I was never a peace-and-quiet kind of guy," Conti said. "I like noise, I like lots of people. That's part of my south Philly upbringing."
Conti moved to Vegas last year and performed at private functions until a couple of months ago, when he heard Ventano's was looking for someone to play background music for guests.
"The room was good," he said, "so I decided to go with it."
The room is great, with a panoramic view of the valley from Arroyo Grande Boulevard and Horizon Ridge Parkway.
Chef Arnauld Briand and his business partner, Carmine Vento, opened the family oriented Italian restaurant in February.
Their goal is to provide excellent food in a comfortable atmosphere, and to make customers happy.
Conti helps keep them happy.
"We tried various kinds of music," Briand said. "But none of it worked. Robert came and played for us and the people liked it so he stays. It was as simple as that. It's been great."
Reviews have been favorable.
Guitar World Magazine describes Conti as having "driving intensity and rhythmic vigor ... (he) has a mastery of harmony and melodic construction."
The Florida Journal newspaper said, "Conti's guitar technique is something that has to be heard. To describe it would leave people thinking, 'No one is that good.' He is."
Although he can play hardcore, straight-ahead jazz (and has done so on a number of CDs), Conti recognizes that there is a limited audience for that brand of music. So he softens his tones when performing for the general public.
"I'm bi-musical, so to speak," Conti said. "I've been able to work all my life by playing what needs to be played, but I do it in a way that I want to play it. I deliver it in a fashion that's palatable to the listening audience.
"You get too far out there and you lose them. That's been a successful formula for me. I can do what I want to do musically, and please an audience at the same time."
Conti grew up in an area of south Philly that is noted for turning out many celebrity entertainers, such as Fabian and Bobby Rydell -- and Las Vegan Buddy Greco.
Conti became interested in jazz guitar at the age of 12. But except for a few lessons with Philadelphia guitar virtuoso Joe Sgro, Conti is a self-taught musician.
In his early teens, Conti began performing with a variety of groups in the Philadelphia area during the school year and spending his summers on the road.
After graduating from high school, Conti spent the next three years performing throughout the United States and Canada with several groups from Philadelphia.
Lured by the beaches and lifestyle of Florida, Conti moved to Jacksonville in 1965 and remained in the state for 22 years, playing jazz and becoming involved in a variety of businesses and investments.
After years of splitting his time between business and music, Conti decided to focus on music.
In 1988 Conti relocated to Irvine, Calif., south of Los Angeles. Eventually, he landed a gig at the Irvine Marriott, an engagement that lasted almost 10 years, until 1998.
During those years he developed a thriving Internet business, marketing his CDs and his 16 instructional books and three videos on how to play guitar.
Conti also developed an eight-string guitar that is sold by Hofner Guitars, which requires him to do some traveling for endorsement purposes.
Last year he moved to Vegas.
"My son had gone off to college," he said. "And the Southern California demographics were constantly changing. As far as jazz gigs, nothing is going on in Southern California. It has dried up completely."
He also likes the fact that Vegas has become a thriving international destination.
"Everyone comes to Vegas, sooner or later," Conti said.
Some of those visitors are fans he has developed as a result of his Internet business.
"Because of the CDs that I sell on my website, I have a good international following," he said. "A lot of my fans will visit Vegas, and when they're in town they drive out here (to Ventano's) to see me."
Conti said he performed in Vegas once back in '64.
"I was a young kid," he said. "That's when the outfit used to run the town."
And it was when visitors wore tuxedos and gowns in the evenings.
"In the '60s, the downtown was pretty laid back, but the Strip had an element of class," he said. "And back in those days it didn't matter if you were a factory worker or an executive, you walked into a casino and all of the employees knew you and they made you feel like Howard Hughes."
Conti noted that Vegas has changed dramatically during the intervening 40 years, and not just in terms of size and atmosphere.
"There are a lot of good musicians in this town who are not working," he said, "and a lot of impersonators of musicians who are."
Saturday marks the 26th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Tribute artist Steve Connolly will have two special performances that evening at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Fitzgerald's second-floor Showroom commemorating the death of The King. Admission is free, but there is a one-drink minimum. Connolly usually performs his tribute show at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays.
Murphy's Pub, on Sunset Road and Annie Oakley Drive in Henderson, will feature jazz vocalist Marsha K, pianist Billy Wallace, drummer Ray Price and bassist Norm Ross in a performance beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Midnight Affair, starring Mike Shane and Jessica Marciel, performs at Casa di Amore on East Tropicana Avenue at 8 p.m. Sundays. Tonight Shane and Marciel will be joined by vocalist Heather Kefalas for a gig that begins at 10 p.m. at Nana B's restaurant on West Tropicana Avenue.
Frank Sinatra tribute artist Gary Anthony, accompanied by keyboardist Ned Mills, performs at 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and at 7 p.m. Sundays at Joey Bistro & Bar on the ninth floor of the Carriage House, 105 E. Harmon Ave.
It's Comedy Karaoke Night at 9 p.m. Mondays at the Coachman Inn, 3240 S. Eastern Ave. Peter Banks, as Austin Powers, hosts a lineup of comics, impersonators and singers during the open-mike sessions.
Also at the Coachman Inn, vocalist/keyboardist Loretta St. John performs at 9 p.m. Fridays.