Previous to the explosion of hotels and casinos in Nevada, casino life was a little different.
For example; shills were commonplace. Casino managers would use shills for a few different reasons…to change the way the cards come out on the Blackjack tables…Some players did not like to play head to head with a dealer. They might request a shill.
I’m not sure there was any statistical logic to any of it. Casino managers were, generally, a superstitious lot.
There was that occasion when a casino Blackjack table had an incredible
winning night. In the course of celebration, the dealer off-handedly attributed it to her wearing blue panties that night.
Immediately, the casino manager required all the female dealers to wear blue panties from then on.
I lobbied vigorously for the ‘position’ of panties checker.
I was a shill at the Golden Casino, in Reno, when Gil and Nikki opened in the Lounge.
They were a wild-blowin’, loungey, horn group with the husband and wife at the front.
Visually, you could hardly take it all in. The bass player, Louie Leos, played Fender bass with one hand while playing lead trumpet!
The Drummer, Johnny Toso, was a Lilliputan ! His aggressive style belied his size…about 4’6”
Gil Casada, was the fiery trombonist. Dick Grey’s sensitive piano was, unbelievably, like Bill Evans.
In front of this groove machine was an unlikely couple. Nikki was the sometimes, eruptive Italian girl, with the husky, Jazz Singer voice.
Gil, half mexican from East LA, whose grandfather shot Billy the Kid – borrowed some zingers from Don Rickles and some very smooth dance moves from Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Brown.
I was near the casino pit, at the shill station, when I heard their ‘Opener’
rip through the casino. A custom, uptempo arrangement of ”This Will Be My Shining Hour”, took everyone by surprise.
This was serious ! The level of musical difficulty and sophistication immediately separated Gil and Nikki and their band, The So and Sos, from the parade of ‘acts’ that were more comfortable with a vanilla version of “I Believe In Music’, ad nauseam.
I was at a Blackjack table when I first said hello to Nikki. She sat to play a few hands while waiting for her next Show.
She looked beautiful walking through the casino in her straight, three quarter-length dress, with gold accessories.
She was a thin girl with short hair, not quite shoulder length. Onstage she and Gil wore matching dark suits – which later would elicit remarks from a customer visiting from another solar system.
These casinos, as all from this solar system knew, were owned and frequented by the Mob members. Nothing was tolerated that would cause a scene or bring attention to someone who might not be with his spouse. Cameras were forbidden. Incidents were forbidden.
The table was empty, except for me. She greeted us warmly. I started before she was able to make a bet.
“I heard you and watched your first show from out here”.
“I saw you in the doorway”, she replied.
“I was almost speechless, except, you know…I’m never speechless.”
She smiled. Actually, she was still smiling from her greeting.
“I don’t know where to start.” I started.
“Your band sounds like Clifford Brown’s. And you, you’re a jazz singer…or, at least, you have a little Julie London, Chris Connor in there”.
She got me right away.
“So…you are not only a musician. You must be good. Certainly knowledgeable. Not many even know Clifford”
“I get by”, I managed.
She made her first bet.
To be continued….