This page is updated:
October 14, 2020 9:29 AM
Lead/Jazz Trombonist, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Cliff Stark was born in Riverside, California ( USA ) on December
After studying piano and violin (neither of which he was fond of)
he was playing string bass in the Central Junior High School Orchestra.
While in Junior High, he went to see a concert by the Riverside
Polytechnic High School Concert Band, and he knew his destiny.
His Junior High Orchestra teacher, Bernice Richmond, stopped by
Cliff's house with a trombone in a case. She took it out, showed
Cliff how to put it together, and went over to the piano and played
an F above middle C. She asked Cliff if he could play that note.
That F was the first note Cliff played, and he never looked back
until January of 1976 when he was stricken with a left facial neuroma
that required an operation which permanently paralyzed the left
side of his face, but saved his life. In the intervening time, he
became first chair of the Riverside Poly High School Band, and won
a music scholarship to Arizona State University, which he turned
down because he wanted to be a trombone player rather than a music
Stark worked (for years) at:
in Las Vegas.
Cliff worked with: Airmen
Tommy Turk, Bennie Green, Carl
Harris, Bob Fitzpatrick, Frank
Jim Trimble, Dave Wheeler, Bill Rogers, Bill Smiley, Marty Harrell,
Bill Tole, Bobby
Archie LeCoque, Sammy Nestico, Milt Bernhart, and with with Si Zentner
While still in his teens, he worked professionally with a Pee Wee
Hunt style Dixieland Band at a night club in San Bernardino, California
called The Bankers' Club. He had to obtain permission from the vice
squad in San Bernardino to work in the club because he was underage
for a liquor establishment. While in High School, Cliff studied
with the lead trombone player at Paramount Studios, Tommy Bassett,
who had a ranch in Riverside. Tommy would let Cliff go along on
some of the studio dates to watch. Cliff also worked in a Latin
band, "The Raul Sanchez Orchestra" with players like Dominic
Felicetta, Louis Valizan, and Ray Ashe.
worked in a music store in San Bernardino and was responsible for
ordering some of the records.
He heard an album called, "The Brothers Nash" featuring
Ted Nash on all the woodwinds, and Dick Nash on trombone.
He also ordered the Dick Nash recording of "Nirvana" with
the Ken Hanna orchestra.
Cliff then looked up Dick's name in the Los Angeles Musicians' Union
directory and called Dick and asked if he could possibly study with
him. Dick accepted Cliff as a student, and every week, Cliff would
put his trombone on his motorcycle and ride in to Tarzana, California
where he and Dick would play duets, swim, and then play some more.
One of the very highest points in Cliff's life was when Dick Nash
invited Cliff to a private party at Dick's house where the guests
Frank Rosolino, Urbie Green, Billy Byers, Dave Wells, Bob Fitzpatrick,
Gil Falco, Lew McCreary, Paul Tanner, Harold Diner, Jim Priddy,
Tommy Pederson, Vern Friley, John Halliburton, Pete Carpenter, Dick
Lief, Lloyd Ulyate, Ray Kline, Tommy Shepard, Hoyt Bohannon, Barney
Liddel, Kenny Trimble, and Bill Moffitt.
Cliff Stark (top row 4th from the right) with the
Being still too young to play professionally, Cliff was watching
Dick Nash playing in the band of a local TV show.
Cliff walked across the street to an Air Force recruiting office
and signed up. When he returned to the TV studio where Dick was
playing, the whole band played "The Air Force Song" for
him. Cliff was sent to the Strategic Air Command Headquarters Band
in Omaha, Nebraska upon completion of his basic training. He was
featured with that band with his solos of "Night Train"
and "Street Scene" which were arranged especially for
him. After a couple of years with that band, a vacancy in the lead
chair of "The Airmen of Note", the official United States
Air Force Dance Band opened up and a guitar player with that band,
David Mendenhall, who knew Cliff, recommended him for the job.Cliff
was flown to meet the band at a performance in the midwestern part
of the country where he auditioned "live" and was accepted.
This was in 1960. Cliff later occupied both the lead and jazz chairs
of The Airmen of Note.
Tired of the endless traveling schedule, Cliff decided to not make
a career out of the Air Force, but to try his luck in Las Vegas,
Nevada, where some previous members of The Airmen of Note were already
making a good living in the house orchestras.
After moving to Las Vegas, Cliff found work at The Desert Inn Hotel
with the Carlton Hayes Orchestra playing in the main showroom. There,
in addition to working in the production show, "Hello America",
he also worked with Jimmy Durante, Rosemary Clooney, Debbie Reynolds,
Danny Kaye and Phil Harris. Phil Harris carried his own Dixieland
group with him consisting of Nick Fatool on drums, Clyde Hurley
on trumpet, Matty Matlock on clarinet, Eddie Miller on Tenor Sax,
and Cliff got to take the trombone spot! Cliff's first love was
Dixieland Jazz, and here, he was in heaven.
After Caesars' Palace opened, the Desert Inn was preparing to go
into another production show, and Charlie
the lead trombone player at Caesars' was moving to Los Angeles.
Cliff was selected to replace Charlie, and it was at Caesars' that
Cliff got to play with almost everyone he had every heard of. Cliff
never wanted to try the studios, because he had always enjoyed live
performing. Studios didn't interest him, and he never considered
himself so much of a contemporary jazz player that he would ever
make much of a contribution to the recording industry.
Las Vegas was made to order for Cliff. Below is a partial list of
the performers that Cliff Stark worked for and with, including some
Broadway shows that were brought to Las Vegas for six month runs
at Caesars' Palace:
On The Roof" Theodore Bikel, Luther Adler
"Mame" Celeste Holm, Susan Hayward
Ed Sullivan TV shows live from Caesars Palace and live from Circus
Nancy Sinatra TV Special
The Carol Burnett Show from Caesars Palace
"Lido de Paris" at the Stardust Hotel
"Casino de Paris" at the Dunes Hotel
"Folies Bergere" at the Tropicana Hotel
"Music Man", "Promises, Promises" and "Hello,
Dolly" at the Union Plaza Hotel
Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Andy Williams, The Osmond Brothers, Shirley
MacLaine, Juliet Prowse, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, Ella Fitgerald,
Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr. Billy Eckstine, Anthony Newley.
Stark with René
Laanen (Las Vegas, June 2001)
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