The incomparable Tony Bennett’s Longevity and Legacy

Tony-Bennett-and-Antonia-Bennett-2Do the math and he’s 87, but better make that 87 years young: Tony Bennett looks, moves, and above all else, sings better than he did back in, say, 1964, when he recorded Live At The Sahara: Las Vegas, 1964.

That album, not coincidentally, was issued last week, three days before Bennett’s concert at Radio City, which had been sold out since July. He did two songs that he did at The Sahara, the swinging “Sing, You Sinners,” which he cut in 1950—and again, with John Legend, for his 2006 Duets: An American Classic album—and “Once Upon A Time,” a melancholy gem by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams from the 1962 musical All American.

Tony-Bennett-Live-at-the-Sahara-smNot to knock the early performances, which have plenty of pep; after all, he was 37 back then—half a century ago. But especially on “Once Upon A Time” at Radio City last week, he invested lines like “How we always laughed as though tomorrow wasn’t there” and “But somehow once upon a time, never comes again” with a depth of emotional invention—and commitment—that clearly comes from 50 added years of experience.

Like all of Bennett’s concerts—and I’ve seen countless—he also brought a spontaneous playfulness to songs like “Steppin’ Out,” the 1993 title track of his album tribute to Fred Astaire, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends,” which he performs with his daughter Antonia Bennett.

Antonia, by the way, has been opening Dad’s shows the last several years, during which she’s developed into a major talent in her own right.

Tony-Bennett“It’s thrilling to get to spend so much time with him as a daughter and as an artist,” she said, in between pop standards lifted from her father’s songbook like “Embraceable You” and an especially lovely reading of Noel Coward’s “Sail Away.”

“I’ve learned so much from him standing in the wings every night and watching.”

Not only has Antonia learned from her father, she’s added to his vast legacy. Maybe his next duets album should be with her. Better yet, he should do a live album, now that he’s putting out old ones (Live At The Sahara was preceded earlier this year by Bennett/Brubeck—The White House Sessions, Live 1962). He hasn’t done one since forever, not with his now longtime backup band of Lee Musiker on piano, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones. They’re all exceptional in their own right (Musiker played with Buddy Rich, among others, and Jones was Count Basie’s favorite drummer), and Bennett needs to have a record of his extraordinary longevity as a concert performer to cap his career as a recording artist.

Jim Bessman


comment closed

Copyright © 2013 M Music & Musicians Magazine ·