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Buddy Greco, the ultimate lounge singer, dies at 90

Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 09:01

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Buddy Greco, a jazz pianist and singer in Benny Goodman's big band in the 1940s, who later hung around with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and developed a well-polished Las Vegas stage show that made him perhaps the ultimate lounge act, died Jan 10 in Las Vegas.

[LAS VEGAS] Buddy Greco, a jazz pianist and singer in Benny Goodman's big band in the 1940s, who later hung around with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and developed a well-polished Las Vegas stage show that made him perhaps the ultimate lounge act, died Jan 10 in Las Vegas. He was 90.

His son Buddy Greco Jr confirmed the death to the Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs, California. No cause was disclosed.

Greco mixed talent, tenacity and a hot temper in a career that lasted more than 80 years. He was an oft-married ladies' man and almost but not quite a member of the Rat Pack, the high-living gang of entertainers surrounding Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin that embodied the extravagance of Las Vegas in its glory days.

Greco had a few minor hits, most notably with a 1962 version of "The Lady Is a Tramp," and recorded more than 70 albums, but couldn't quite scale the highest peaks of stardom.

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He evolved from being a piano player who sometimes sang into a swinging, high-energy entertainer who jumped up from the keyboard to belt out swelling choruses of songs of occasionally dubious merit, all delivered with a finger-snapping hipster patter."I'd always wanted to be a jazz pianist," he told the New York Times in 1963. "But it's easier to make a living as a singer. ... I'd still be working in crummy rooms and playing to an audience of jazz buffs. By singing, I can appeal to the masses." Greco became a headliner in supper clubs and for years was featured at the Desert Inn's Starlight Lounge in Las Vegas. He recorded for the Verve jazz label, with symphony orchestras and occasionally in straight-ahead jazz settings.

Throughout the 1960s, he was a familiar presence on television variety shows, where he was introduced as "Mr. Excitement of Song." If he didn't reach the showbiz heights of Martin, Sinatra or Tony Bennett, it wasn't for lack of trying."No performer works harder at pleasing his crowds," jazz critic Will Friedwald wrote in his book "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers.""The most purist of jazz purists . . . could conceivably object to Greco's highly animated offerings, but they'd be tapping their feet four beats to a bar while they did so." Greco never cracked the Top 40, but he kept chasing hits by changing his style from jazz to pop to country and back again, changing his wardrobe but never losing - at least in public - his 200-watt smile.

He suffered through withering reviews - "It is a strangely empty, unfocused act . . . that might suggest possibility for growth if Mr. Greco had not already been at it so long," New York Times critic John Wilson wrote in 1977.

Ever the showman, Greco was known to sing a verse of "Satin Doll," then sit down for some fancy flourishes at the piano, saying, "Talk to me, piano!" The lounge-singer caricatures by Bill Murray on "Saturday Night Live" and Jerry Lewis, as "Buddy Love" in the 1963 film "The Nutty Professor," cut a little close to the bone. A 1994 GQ magazine profile of Frank Sinatra Jr had the insulting, if memorable headline "Frank Sinatra Jr Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos." But there was more to Greco than a willingness to get on stage. There may have been lounge singers before him, but he was the perfection of the form.

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