Steven Lee finds fulfillment in jazz

Steven Lee has played in a diverse array of shows, bands and lounge acts -- and in venues ranging from Strip hotels to off-Strip clubs -- since hitting town in 1978.

But, even with all that, Lee is particularly fond of his Sunday evening jazz gigs at Red Rock Resort with the Steven Lee Group featuring Rocco Barbato.

Lee, originally from Virginia, began playing guitar and french horn at the age of 12. He succumbed to the lure of jazz while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, playing guitar in jazz groups around town.

Deciding to pursue a career in music, Lee moved to Las Vegas and found jobs here playing in several groups, and working in several music genres, over the years.

About 12 years ago, he was playing at a local brew pub when Judy Alberti, who oversees entertainment for Station Casinos, suggested that he meet Barbato, who recently had moved to Las Vegas from New York.

Barbato stopped by and sat in with Lee and, Lee says, "we hit it off." They and their band played the pub for a few years, then moved to Bellagio for an eight-year stint.

Since then, they've played in bands for Gordie Brown and, for the past three years, Donny and Marie. However, the projects largely took Lee away from jazz.

Lee says that when he mentioned to Alberti about his desire to return to jazz on a more regular basis, she set up the weekly Red Rock Resort engagement.

There, he says, "we're doing music that's kind of challenging, musically, not only for the players but for the listener as well. It's music that kind of has meat on the bones.

"There are still enough people here in town who appreciate that kind of musicianship," he adds. "And, really ... it's a showcase for the musician.

"Everyone has their moment to shine. The cool thing about jazz, is, it's kind of an ongoing musical dialogue between everyone onstage."

In addition to Lee on guitar and Barbato on saxophone, the group includes Joey Finger on drums, "Billy T" Tragesser on keyboards, Rochon Westmoreland on bass and Tony Davich and Michelle Johnson on vocals.

Playing together is "something we really find personally, musically fulfilling," Lee says. "I'm lucky enough to have played with a lot of great musicians over the years, and the guys I'm playing with in this jazz thing, every one of them is a world-class player."

The Steven Lee Group featuring Rocco Barbato plays from 8 to 10:30 p.m. Sundays at Rocks Lounge in Red Rock Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd.

--By John Przybys