Saxophonist Sam Butera, who played with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Prima, has died in hospital in Las Vegas at the age of 81. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Butera was born in New Orleans, and began playing saxophone at the age of seven after hearing it played at a wedding. He began work as a professional musician straight after high school, and was immediately successful, beginning by working for big band drummer Ray McKinley's orchestra, and being named one of America's top upcoming jazz men by Look magazine when he was just eighteen years old. By his early twenties, he had worked in the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, and Paul Gayten.
When the big band sound decreased in popularity, he turned to lounge jazz in Las Vegas, a move that ultimately led to what was probably his most significant career phase, his period of time leading a band, The Witnesses, for the aforementioned Louis Prima, from 1954 to 1975. The arrangements and compositions the pair created during that period have since been covered by the likes of David Lee Roth, Los Lobos and Brian Setzer.
Prima's widow Gia, who sang with the band from 1962 to 1975, told Billboard: "Make no mistake. Louis' true ace-in-the-hole was Sam Butera. For 21 years, Sam and Louis kicked Las Vegas butt!"
Speaking about when she heard Butera play for the first time, she said: "I was fourteen years old. Best thing I ever heard and saw. He was an amazing technician of his instrument. Every night on stage and feeling the camaraderie, for me, are my fondest memories of Sam. Every night was a new experience. It was beautiful".
Source: Unlimited Media www.unlimitedmedia.co.uk