Video poker > jazz.
At least that’s what Las Vegas locals and tourists may conclude, given the city’s checkered past with the musical genre. One of America’s original art forms has, time and again, been trumped by one of Sin City’s favorite pastimes.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. One of them is The Dispensary Lounge (2451 E. Tropicana Ave.), where every Friday and Saturday night and the first Wednesday of each month the video-poker machines fall silent and blue notes fill the air.
Uli Geissendoerfer masterminded this musical coup. Originally from Munich, Geissendoerfer moved to Las Vegas in 2009 to be the bandleader of Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva ELVIS.” He founded The Dispensary’s jazz series in February 2012.
I started it because there was no jazz place in town and I wanted to create something different from the other music lounges,” Geissendoerfer explains. “It was happenstance and I found a great partner in Adele (Bellas), the owner of The Dispensary. At first she didn’t know what to make of it, but now she wholeheartedly supports me and my idea of a real jazz place in and for the Las Vegas community.
The foundation of the series is the Uli Geissendoerfer Trio: Geissendoerfer (keyboard), Dave Ostrem (bass) and Angelo Stokes (drums). Guest musicians and vocalists cut a path in the carpet to the elevated corner stage, adding layers. Typically the guests are talented locals—one recent evening chanteuse Naomi Mauro graced the stage—but the series has hosted national luminaries, including Sam Most, Rick Margitza and Wynton Marsalis. The music shifts, for example, from the American songbook to Latin jazz, depending on who scales the stage.
The diversity of the music is reflected in the patrons, who range from mature UNLV students to young-at-heart senior citizens.
Opened in 1976, The Dispensary appears older. (I mean that in a good way.) Swinging double doors lead into a mood-lit main room furnished with wood-frame couches and chairs. String lighting lines the sharp contours. Plastic plants hang from an acoustic-tile ceiling. It’s reminiscent of your grandmother’s living room—but grandma never played jams like these. (The signature waterwheel still backs the stage, but is currently not spinning.)
The only drawback of The Dispensary’s jazz series, which is free, is that it’s as hard to leave as a hot video-poker machine. It’s 1 a.m. and you’re angling for the double doors, but a cat in mirrored shades and a fedora just climbed the stage carrying a bumper sticker-clad saxophone case. You have to stick around to see what flavor he adds to the musical stew. In that respect, the jazz series may be more addictive than the glowing, flat faces staring up from the bar.
Jazz > video poker.
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