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3:49AM

SAM DISTEFANO - A Tribute to a Friend & Colleague - Part III

It was just brought to my attention by Mike Distefano, his dad Sam Distefano will be celebrating his 87th birthday in this month of December 2013.

Mike also mentioned. Since they both retired from the Riviera Hotel & casino in 1993 -they formed their own entertainment management & consulting firm which they continued to operate successfully until 2003.  Currently they both maintain a healthy lifestyle consisting of a low-fat diet combined with daily exercise that includes swimming, cardio workouts, and resistance training with weights.

 

***As a Tribute to Sam Distefano in this Part III section***

I would like to share a Bio and some interesting facts from his respected career in as a Musician, Production, and position of V.P. of Entertainment for various major casinos.

> EARLY YEARS<

Sam Distefano is an exceptionally gifted, brilliant-minded, Italian-American jazz-pianist & talent executive born on the south side of Chicago, IL, in December 1926.  He exhibited signs of genius at an early age by demonstrating a wide range of talents that included speaking 2 languages fluently, performing piano recitals of complicated classical pieces (including the 'William Tell Overture' perfectly at only 8 years old & with a high fever no less), & earning straight A’s throughout elementary school & high school.  He was elected editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper at Tilden Tech & interviewed then General Dwight Eisenhower at the Drake Hotel for the paper when he was only 16.  As a teen & early-aged adult, he worked many jazz clubs on piano in the Chicagoland area.  He studied time & motion engineering at IT&T Institute & attended college briefly at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier before joining the military in the early '50’s.

>MILITARY PERIOD<

It was during this period that his lifelong, close friendship with the famous jazz pianist, Bill Evans, ensued.  During the Korean War, Sam & Bill Evans were stationed together at Ft. Sheridan in northern Illinois, bunkmates in the same platoon, & performed together in the 5th Army Band.  This unique opportunity enabled Sam to further develop his jazz piano playing.  It was also during this period that his wide range of talents once again shone through as he was accepted into the 5th Army Band on trumpet, called upon to perform "Taps" at many Chicagoland area Vet funerals, assigned percussion parts (including crash cymbals in the marching band), & was awarded the National Defense Service Marksmanship Medal for having demonstrated perfect firearms skills & proficiency in combat training.

>EDUCATION<

After serving honorably in the U.S. Army from '52-'55, Sam moved to Miami, FL & invested in a notable nightclub named the Crab Shanty that he changed to the Stut N’ Tut where he performed with the legendary jazz trombonist, Carl Fontana.  Performing in & operating the Stut N’ Tut enabled Sam to return to college.  Majoring in accounting, he graduated from the University of Miami in '57 with a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.  He accomplished this degree on limited amounts of sleep from having to work nights at the Stut N’ Tut while attending his full class load during the days.

>EARLY MUSICAL CAREER<

After graduating college, Sam was able to returned to his hometown of Chicago where his versatility of talent was exhibited yet again as he was working days as an industrial engineer for IT&T, & nights as a musician playing both piano & upright acoustic string bass.  Sam performed in many of the city’s famous nightclubs such as the Cloister, the Tradewinds, & the Living Room, relieving such famous pianists as Joe Parnello (Frank Sinatra’s pianist), Larry Novak, & Joe Iacco on their off-nights.  It was at one of these clubs that Victor Lownes & Hugh Hefner caught Sam performing with his trio & accompanying female jazz vocalists on piano.

PLAYBOY – Victor Lownes & Hugh Hefner liked Sam’s playing enough to ask him to perform with his trio at the 1st Playboy Club, which opened on Walton St. in Chicago, in February of 1960.  This launched what would turn into an elaborate 25-year career with Playboy that included Sam being promoted to musical director at their club in Miami from 1962-1969; orchestra leader, conductor, & entertainment director at their country club & resort hotel in Lake Geneva, WI from 1969-1978 (where he led his own 32-piece orchestra, accompanied on piano, & conducted for, such artists as Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Liza Minnelli, Anthony Newley,The Smothers Brothers & Ann Margaret, to name a few); & eventually vice-president of entertainment for their entire international chain of clubs & hotels worldwide.  He also served, along with producer/director, Peter Jackson, as executive producer of the "Playboy Fantasy" production show & revue at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ from 1981-1983.  Sam was retained as a consultant for Playboy through the end of 1984. 

During this period that Sam owned, operated, & often hosted at, Doro’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge at 871 N. Rush St., a popular downtown Chicago nightspot frequented by VIP’s, Hollywood stars, & every "who’s-who" of the entire Tri-State area.  A Chicago VIP himself, He was often featured in Irv Kupcinet’s Chicago Sun-Times "Kup’s Column," plus local radio interviews, & on T.V. journal shows like WFLD’s "PM Magazine Chicago." 

>LAS VEGAS<

Immediately following his successful 25-year career with Playboy Enterprises, Inc., Sam was contacted and hired by corporate conglomerate tycoon, Meshulam Riklis in 1984 to head the entertainment department as vice-president of entertainment & special events at Riklis’ legendary Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.  Launching and booking many successful entertainment events at "The Riviera” during his decade-long tenure there.  These included numerous world-heavyweight championship-boxing bouts, concerts, & full-scale production shows like "A New Year’s Eve with Frank Sinatra & Pia Zadora;" the "Legends of Comedy" event, which featured Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, & Danny Thomas; "Burns & Hope Together," wherein George Burns & Bob Hope performed live together for the first time; "Luciano Pavarotti with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra;" the "Evening At La Cage" female impersonator show; the "Evening at the Improv" comedy club; the "Crazy Girls" sexy revue; & the award-winning "Splash" multi-million-dollar production-extravaganza, which Distefano associate-produced, that ran successfully for over 20 years in the Versailles Theater, & was acclaimed as "Las Vegas’ International Show of the Year" by the Las Vegas Review Journal for over 10 years in a row.  Sam was often a featured guest on the KVVU Las Vegas hit T.V. show "AM Southern Nevada," as well as a judge on the popular '80’s & '90’s national T.V. series "Star Search," with Ed McMahon, that paved the way for today’s talent search shows like "American Idol" & "America’s Got Talent."

The career of Sam Distefano was a highlighted exhibit in the Las Vegas Museum of Entertainment History at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino, & in '97, he was honorably inducted into the Casino Legends Hall Of Fame.  To this day, Sam remains the frequent subject of numerous, popular books about the history of music & entertainment in Chicago, Las Vegas, & the iconic Playboy Clubs.

 

>FAMILY & PERSONAL INTERESTS<

Sam hailed from humble beginnings.  His parents were both Roman Catholic immigrants from Sicily, with limited education.  His mother was a seamstress & his father was a meat plant worker on Chicago’s south side in the famous "Back of the Yards" union stockyard district during the Great Depression.  Yet they succeeded in raising 2 children – Sam & his only sister, Mary.  Distefano married in '67 in Miami (his wife, Pam, was an airline stewardess for Eastern Airlines), had 1 child in '69 (a son, Michael), divorced in '78, & never remarried.  His personal interests include reading National Geographic magazine, traveling, fishing, & playing poker (he was the 1st place winner of 3, large, international poker tournaments hosted at the Riviera & Desert Inn Hotels & Casinos in Las Vegas in '88 & '94, respectively).  He is an avid movie & T.V. fan of Charles Bronson, Steven Segal, Peter Sellers (the 'Pink Panther' films), & Peter Falk (particularly the '70’s detective series, 'Columbo.').  Sam participated in many large, charitable, fundraising events in both Chicago & Las Vegas for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, & Injured Police Officers’ Fund.  A devout Catholic, he attends Mass regularly at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Las Vegas.  Sam also enjoys performing music with his son Mike (who also plays jazz piano & drums).

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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Sam,

Drop me a line...
August 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Bagatini

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