Don't know how I didn't learn it earlier, but thanks to an e-mail from my old pal, author-drummer Bruce Klauber, I just found out the great saxophonist Sam Butera died Wednesday in Las Vegas at age 81.

I won't bother with the autobiographical details, as they are readily available elsewhere online. But I do have a few thoughts about  Sam (I can't imagine him asking anyone to call him "Mr. Butera").

Sam and his insanely tight "show band," The Wildest, were mainstays in Atlantic City from the dawn of legal gambling in 1978 well into the 1990s. The act was one of the last two or three of the great Las Vegas lounge acts of the "Rat Pack" era, and everytime they played AyCee,  Sam and his boys brought a little bit of that old-time magic with them. It was extremely cool to see them in long-gone bars like those that used to be at Trump Plaza and what was then known as Resorts International.

Offstage, Sam was a trip-and-a-half. Speaking in hep-cat lingo delivered via a rich drawl redolent of his native Nawlins, La., he was a font of great show biz stories and all around good cheer. In his later years, Sam, who according to reports had suffered from Alzheimer's, could always be counted upon to rant against rocker David Lee Roth who, Sam charged, virtually cloned--sans compensation--his arrangement of "Just A Gigolo"/"I Ain't Got Nobody," which he conceived for his long-time friend, mentor and boss, Louis Prima.

I have no idea if Sam ever received any satisfaction of the issue before the onset of the insidious illness that ultimately killed him. I at least hope his grievances didn't keep him from enjoying what time he had left.

I'll close with the final paragraph of the obituary Klauber, who gigged with Sam at Resorts at the dawn of the legal casino era, wrote. It sums up the man's life better than I could ever do it:

I once asked, during a band break at Resorts International in the early 1980s, if there was any secret to to his longevity.  "There are two things to remember," he told me.  "One is that it's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice.  The second is, and I love pure jazz more than anyone else, that we don't play for critics.  We play what I call happy music, and as Louis used to say, 'We play it pretty for the people.'"