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By day, longtime Las Vegas entertainer Keith Thompson tends to “The Cocktail Cabaret,” a show he helped create for the Cleopatra’s Barge lounge at Caesars Palace.
But for one late night each month, he promotes original music as host and impresario for The Composers Showcase at the Smith Center. The showcase provides an opportunity for Las Vegas musicians to perform their compositions in a professional setting.
“It is not open mic at all,” said Thompson, a Broadway veteran whose other Las Vegas credits include “Jersey Boys” and “Hairspray.” “Our audiences have come to expect a certain caliber, and we do have some of the best musicians in the world here in town.”
Southern Nevada musicians entertain thousands of people each night, but they typically perform other people’s music. The showcase offers an antidote once a month when the curtain rises at 10:30 p.m. at Myron's Cabaret Jazz, a 240-seat venue inside the Smith Center.
The audience draws heavily from the Southern Nevada entertainment community, allowing performers to network and get feedback.
“My peers understand the creative process; they understand the vulnerability that goes into it,” said Jolana Sampson, a singer and composer who is debuting new music at this week’s showcase.
Sampson, who traded in life fronting a Strip cover band to raise her two sons, has been part of the showcase since 2012. She used the opportunity in 2014 to debut “My Voice,” a song written for a fellow singer who successfully battled cancer.
“It was when I started writing, and wanting to write, for other artists besides myself,” Sampson said.
Thompson said songwriting provided him a chance to deal with his feelings after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children dead. He debuted “My Own Journey’s End” at the showcase, performed here by New York singer Virginia Woodruff.
“As a writer it’s an extraordinary gift that you have where you can actually express through music the things that you’re feeling,” Thompson said. “As it came out, what it was was an homage to those children who died way too young.”
The Composers Showcase turns 12 this month, and this week’s show, like most that came before, is sold out.
For its next act, Thompson has secured 501c(3) nonprofit status for Composers Showcase and plans to invest in technology to bring performances out of the Smith Center and onto the Web. He also plans to introduce an education component pairing experienced songwriters with those new to the craft.
“When you say original music, you think New York, Nashville and Los Angeles,” he said. “I want them to say that’s Las Vegas — that’s where new things are being written.”
Keith Thompson, Composers Showcase creator; Jolana Sampson, singer and songwriter
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