Wearing an elegant vintage evening gown, high heels and elbow-length satin gloves, flowers tucked into her coiffed brown hair, Laura Shaffer personifies the music she brings to the stage at Tuscany Suites.
Her Noir Nightingale quartet breaks into a jazzy tune from decades past—maybe something from the songbooks of Cole Porter, Julie London or Duke Ellington—and Shaffer delivers the lyrics in a voice that matches her beauty and grace.
The daughter of piano player and singer Charlie Shaffer, who came to Las Vegas from Houston in 1958 to play the Hacienda hotel, she’s intimately familiar with standard classics. While Shaffer has covered everything from Top 40 to country and blues, she’s happiest returning to her American jazz roots.
“Though when it was suggested to me to get out there with the look and the music and offer it to people, I didn’t think there was a chance that I could make a living off of it,” Shaffer says. “I really didn’t think there was an audience for it here anymore.”
It’s a small, but appreciative audience.
Along with regular gigs at Tuscany, Bootlegger Bistro and Red Rock Resort, Shaffer got a chance to open for Tony Bennett, Donny and Marie and Jennifer Lopez at an August 6 gala fêting Caesars Palace’s 50th anniversary. It’s a bit of a homecoming: Her mother was one of the “goddesses” when Caesars opened in 1966.
Shaffer had to submit her charts to the orchestra director for approval. “I don’t think there’s any danger of J-Lo doing the same tunes (as me), but when I submitted ‘Just in Time’ as one my numbers, he said Tony might be doing that,” Shaffer says. “They also [wanted] to approve my gown. I don’t mind at all, though. It’s such a big deal. I know they [wanted] everything just so. Which is what makes it such a compliment that they chose me over other singers. I’m so tickled.”
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Shaffer played oboe at Las Vegas High School, switching from viola so she could sit next to her best friend. She wasn’t good at it, though, and auditioned for Spectrum, a high school production program. That’s where she learned to sing and dance, as well as overcome her fear and shyness.
“I still remember standing in the dark wings on our first show night, listening to myself being introduced and looking at the spotlight, waiting for me to walk into it and onstage,” Shaffer recalls. “I was terrified. But I also felt resolved and, obviously, there was no turning back at this point.”
Shaffer landed her first professional gig in Puttin’ on the Ritz at Westward Ho, where her dad was music director. While trying to calm herself on opening night, she was approached by the saxophone player, who happened to be her junior high band teacher.
“He put his hand on my shoulder and told me how great I was going to be, and how proud he was of me and how proud my dad must be,” she recalls, “I vividly remember him saying, ‘You’ve come a long way.’”
For a schedule of Shaffer’s appearances, visit MidnightRefrain.com.