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 machine.)

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 him.

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 money.”
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 barker.
“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 know it.”

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 stuff.”
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.