Like most lounge musicians, Joe Vento plays requests. It’s rare that a guest stumps him. In fact, he claims to have 22,000 songs committed to memory.
He’s had plenty of years to learn them. Vento will turn 95 in December.
He performs on a Steinway on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Royal Resort, but he could just as easily play the requests, from “Moon River” to “My Way," on any of about 60 instruments.
Vento took up the violin at age 2. At 6, in a competition against grownups, he walked off with first prize for his rendition of “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the accordion. By 11, he was enrolled at the Juilliard School in New York.
In the hotel’s lobby, people gather to not only listen to Vento tickling the ivories, but to hear his tales of the countless celebrities with whom he has worked.
“There was one thing about the Rat Pack,” he told a recent audience. “They never had a script. You had to be ready to do whatever they wanted to do.”
Dressed in a blue silk shirt and a tie adorned with piano keys, he went on to describe Ann-Margret as “a very kind, tender person,” Elvis Presley as a “nice man,” Frank Sinatra as “staid” and “reclusive,” and Liberace as “a humble guy.” He said he still cherishes the gold cuff links Liberace once gave him as a gift.
In his younger years, Vento performed music for about 2,000 television shows and movies, including classics such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Godfather.” He said he keeps performing to keep his fingers nimble.
“Do these look like the hands of a 94-year-old?” he asked between songs. Many of those who have pulled up a chair are on their way to or from dinner at Barrymore, the hotel’s restaurant. They slowly fill a tip jar with one- and five-dollar bills, and the occasional twenty.
Vento shows no sign of slowing down. Like music, longevity is apparently in his genes. He said his mother lived to be 107.
The Royal Resort is at 99 Convention Center Drive, less than a block east of Las Vegas Boulevard.
[For the record, Oct. 28, 2:55 p.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled Juilliard as Julliard.]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun