- Benefits and Services
- Suicide Prevention
By Chuck N. Baker
At the Las Vegas City Council meeting this past August, attendees packed the chamber and sat through a lengthy, dry agenda. All-in-all, it was a typical City Council meeting, on a sunny day, in the bustling town of desert-built casinos. But for at least one resident, it was a special day. Joe Vento was named Citizen of the Month.
For the nearly a century, Army veteran and musician Vento has tickled the ivories and squeezed the accordion in a career that has taken him to Hollywood and other far-flung locales of the entertainment world. City Councilman Bob Coffin, a long-time friend of Vento, saw fit to have the civic body honor the musician who has seemingly been in professional music since, at least the way he jokingly tells it, “the Jurassic Period.”
The playlist in Vento’s mind is endless. Mention a song, virtually any pop song, and in an instant the melody, the harmony and the bass line all come together on the eighty-eights. On a really good night, he’ll also belt out a few lines of the lyrics, but emphasized, “I play the piano and I mostly let others do the singing.”
Until recently he could be found one or two nights a week in the lobby at the off-Strip Royal Resort hotel, playing for tips. Due to his current health, he doesn’t get out as much as he used to and, when he does, it’s inevitable that hotel guests and restaurant patrons are drawn to his music. Short of having a tin ear, they will start singing along with Vento’s playing, joining in sometimes for just one song, sometimes several songs. If someone is off a key or two, Vento pays no attention and keeps the chords coming.
Most nights he wears a cap that announces that he is a veteran. “I served in World War Two, Korea and Vietnam,” he proudly states. “I was a Lieutenant Colonel.” When asked what he did in the service, his answer is always Spartan in nature. “I was in intelligence,” is his reply. And it’s futile to attempt to have him go any further. He intimates that his work was so secret he still is unable to discuss it. If anyone continues to ask, he’ll merely say, “What song would you like to hear next?” Vento’s official biography states that in WWII he was assigned to Special Services and played in the U.S. Army Band.
Over the years he backed Frank Sinatra and members of the Rat Pack, Tony Bennett, the Mills Brothers, Count Basie and many, many others. He said he also scored uncredited incidental music for various film productions and made appearances as a musician in numerous motion pictures.
At the City Hall ceremony, Vento was in a wheelchair. His mind was sharp and like his prolific fingers, his verbal pronouncements were strong. But his legs have gotten weak in recent years and his walking ability has suffered. At the microphone, Councilman Coffin praised his friend and indicated he was unsure about Vento’s age. Vento has said he often told people he was younger than he was for business reasons. He may have been a senior citizen, but he didn’t want agents, producers and managers to know just how senior.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman and other council members took turns praising Vento and posing for photographs with him. Few doubt that he is somewhere between 95 and 100. Even without a keyboard present, it was a musical moment. Entertainer Billy Joel wrote “The Piano Man” about himself, but it could easily be about Joe Vento: “Sing us a song, you’re the piano man … and you’ve got us feelin’ alright.”