Written by Carol Cling, for the Review Journal
He that happens upon Vegas, Stays in Vegas.
That’s been true of lounge legend Cook E. Jarr since June 2nd,
1982, when he and his backup group, the Krums arrived from Atlantic
City, NJ for a two-week gig at the now imploded Sands.
The Sands may be long gone, replaced by the Venetian. The Krums have
been swept away. But the Cookster’s still cooking on the Strip,
holding court at Harrah’s outdoor Carnaval Court from 11pm to
1am Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The music may have changed, with hip-hop hits from Nelly, 50-Cent, Usher
and OutKast joining old standbys from Steppenwolf to Kool and the Gang.
But the act remains much the same.
Booming, booty-shaking music. Plentiful patter from the motor mouth
musician, punctuated by the Cookster’s dog barks, imitation engine-revving
(which comes in handy during “Born to Be Wild”) and other
trademark sound effects.
To say nothing of a heaping helping of Vegas kitsch that tells tourists
and locals alike – as if they couldn’t guess from the neon-lit
ambience and a late-night temperature pushing triple digits –
that they’re in Pair-a-dice, baby.
Introduced by a fellow DJ as “the immortal living Las Vegas legend”
– no brag, just fact – Cook E. Jarr hits the stage with
flair, daring to compare his 2005 self with one from a few decades ago,
embodied in a cardboard cutout from the late disco era featuring his
full-body likeness, augmented by a sign urging audiences to “Feed
the Jar”, (The jar in question being Cook E.’s omnipresent
“Tip Jarr”, a genuine cookie jar ion the shape of a slot
His face (along with a few other things) has thickened a bit. But the
dark mop of hair – reminiscent of the Three Stooges’ Moe,
if Moe had decided to grow his trademark bowl into a modified mullet
– remains the same.
The Jarr man claims his hair is real. “I wish it was a wig,”
he says, noting that he sometimes dares doubting customers to grab it
during his Harrah’s gigs. Besides, “who’d buy a wig
this ugly?” But he has no one to blame but himself.
“My father was a barber, my sisters were beauticians,” he
points out. “I cut my own hair.” Then he sprays it –
and sprays it some more.
“I just AquaNet it” he explains. “It’s a helmet”
Like everything else with Cook E. Jarr, he makes it work – for
After all, he jokes, “Every Jarr needs a lid”
The jar also needs his trademark attire, which includes customized jeans,
his name’s embroidered down one leg, and a chestful of chains
competing for space with abundant hair.
Jarr’s “a great fit for Vegas” comments Jimmy Kimmel
who grew up in Las Vegas and has featured Jarr twice ( so far) on “Jimmy
Kimmel Live” his late night ABC talk show. “He’s exactly
the kind of thing people hope to see when they’re in Vegas.”
Analyzing Jarr’s act, “At first glance, you think, what
is this?” Kimmel says. “Then you’re amused for a little
while, and then you start to think, Hey… he’s pretty good.”
Jarr’s still at the “what is this?” stage when he
first cranks up the music at Harrah’s.
“You’re on the Las Vegas Strip, baby, dancing your booty
off tonight!” he proclaims. “Party on the Las Vegas Strip
with Cook E. Jarr!”
While Jarr sings along to pre-recorded tracks of funky hits old and
new, red and blue lights revolve, police car style atop speakers pumping
out a nonstop beat.
A strobe light fires up at random intervals, while a mirrored disco
ball twirls overhead. After a few tunes, Cook E. unfurls the Stars and
Stripes at center stage.
In between dog barks, songs and jokes, he grabs a hand held lantern
to spotlight dancers, survey the crowd and otherwise add to the atmosphere.
“I don’t see you dancing back there,” he warns a few
sedentary spectators. (Not that there’s much room amid the dozens
of gyrating bodies crowding the floor.) “I saw that move,”
he tells one dancer, imitating his enthusiastic steps. “I stole
that - it’s mine.”
In between tunes, Jarr regales the crowd with tales of Vegas, from his
daily sports betting habit to the joys of dry desert heat, and throws
in philosophical nuggets from the Gospel According to Cook E. Jarr.
Jarr counters the popular “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”
myth with a caustic “the only thing that stays in Vegas is your
And he’s certainly not averse to asking for money, pausing frequently
to hawk his CD, a bargain at $10 a pop, like an enthusiastic carnival
“Step right up!” he exhorts the crowd. “If you don’t
like the CD, you can call me!”
Jarr began his current Harrah’s stand five years ago, on weekends,
after meeting executive Tom Jenkin at a banquet.
Jenkin had no idea who Jarr was, recalls Harrah’s spokes-women
Madeleine Weekley, but she and fellow diners told him “how lucky
he was to be sitting next to such a legend in Las Vegas.” After
Jenkin and other Harrah’s officials caught his act at nearby Casino
Royale, Harrah’s signed him to an exclusive contract.
Jarr performed on weekends when he first moved to Harrah’s. But
casino officials, knowing of his faithful following, decided to shirt
him to midweek, when they needed help drawing crowds.
“I was saying to myself, do I have a choice?” Jarr recalls.
“But I loved the challenge. If people show up, I get the credit.
And a lot of pople come there to see me.”
Cook E. Jarr first arrived here in the 70’s with the Krum’s,
spelling the Checkmates in Nero’s Nook (now Cleopatra’s
Barge) at Caesars Palace.
But “the town was like, Come fly with me” Jarr says, breaking
in to a creditable Frank Sinatra imitation. (Cook’s versions of
two other Rat Pack faves, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. can be heard
on his answering machine.) “That’s cool, but it’s
not my cup of tea”
So Caesars paid off his contract and the former auto and aircraft mechanic
headed back to the East Coast, performing in his native Philadelphia
and Atlantic City – until his Atlantic City employers bought the
Sands and asked him to play Vegas.
Jarr planned to stay two weeks. It’s now been 23 years and counting,
with gigs on and off the Strip.
“I’ve worked the MGM, the Tropicana, Caesars, Bally’s,”
he recalls. But at least those places are still standing, unlike “The
Silver Slipper – we called it the Sleazy Slipper’ –
and the El Roacho, alias the now imploded El Rancho. The Continental
(now Terrible’s) came up with a casino chip commemorating Cook
E. Jarr’s performances there. Harrah’s also has issued a
commemorative chip in his honor.
Kimmel first saw Jarr in the 80’s at the Holiday Casino, he thinks.
“I could be mistaken, I was very drunk at the time,” Kimmel
acknowledges. But Kimmel does remember, quite distinctly, that someone
left conga drums near the stage “and I started playing the congas”
while Jarr performed. “He didn’t get mad, he had no idea
who I was. Just some drunken fool.”
Just one of thousands Jarr’s played to, and for, through the years.
And he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Indeed, the Cookster’s been in the recording studio in recent
weeks, adding new backing tracks to his repertoire.
That’s “one of the things I love most about him” Kimmel
says, noting that Jarr “stays so current. A song’s been
on the radio for three weeks and he’s got it in his act.”
In a uniquely Vegas example of multi-tasking, Cook E. spends his extensive
tanning bed time (he looks like he’s been tanning on the face
of the sun,” Kimmel jokes) learning new material.
“I’m always learning songs,” he says, adding that
rap songs take weeks to learn.
“As soon as you blow one word, (audiences) know,” he points
out. “They don’t know the words, but if you blow it, they
Yet even such country hits as “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”
are contenders for his anything goes act.
“I really do love it all,” Jarr says, “even the dumb
And what’s not to love?
“Two days on, five days off?” he says of his workweek.
“I died and went to heaven.”
Heaven or Vegas. For Cook E. Jarr, they’re one in the same.