Tony Bennett is the last of the musical GREATS still gracing this Earth. The man is not only a giant of a musician, he is a giant of a man, a painter, a philanthropist, an awe-inspiring survivor, he is the last of the great presenters, the great deliverers, of the most beautiful music (in my humble opinion) ever written.
Frank, Tony, Mel Tormé, Ella et al….these stardust-covered musicians, they knew, worked with, socialized with, men who, if I believed in the supernatural, I’d say were musical angels…Porter, Van Heusen, Burke, Mercer, Gershwin (Ira – sadly, not really George…I don’t suppose Frank, though around in the 30’s, got to know George…to think, that great man died without realizing how massive ‘Summertime’ was going to be…TRAGIC!).
The music that Tony Bennett has given, and continues to give, us – at 89 years old, revered by the ‘new kids on the block’, like Lady Gaga – is given a life which can only come from having known the creators. Bennett, Sinatra, we will never see, nor hear, their likes again. Bublé and co., terrific, but not in the same class and, in all fairness to them, they can’t hope to be – they are ‘imitators’, 2nd/3rd generation – Tony Bennett is from the original ‘school’. Tony Bennett and Frank, they are the real deal, they breathed the same air as Rodgers, Hart, Mercer, Heusen, Burke, Berlin, Michel Legrand, as Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, as Basie, as Ellington, as Art Tatum, Chet Baker, Oscar Peterson. Tony Bennett is one of them, he grew up as a kid and a young man breathing air that was infused with music, he was made and nurtured at a magical time in which the seeds of music were sewn and gave us immortal blossoms. We will NEVER see nor hear their likes again but they will be with us for ever. At this point, I must mention Michael Feinstein who has dedicated his life to preserving the music of the Great American Songbook and, for that, I massively applaud, and thank, him!
Tony Bennett, 18 Grammy Awards (including a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 2001) and two Emmy Awards, named an ‘NEA Jazz Master’ and a Kennedy Centre Honoree, well in excess of 50 million records sold worldwide and still, at the age of 89, performing in sold-out concert halls, that stands testament to the greatness of the man (thanks, Wikipedia, for those numbers).
As I blogged recently, Frank Sinatra was created by the alignment of some of the most beautiful stars…Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins (that list goes on and one), Van Heusen and Burke, Cole Porter, the Gershwins et al., Bing Crosby, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, his mother, Dolly, his inherent drive and ambition, the incredible orchestras, the times, it all came together to give us Frank and his music. Tony Bennett is no different, a product of his time and his upbringing, his ‘never-say-die’ attitude, that awe-inspiring ability to keep getting up, dusting himself off and getting on with it, his wonderfully loving and supporting family, D’Andrea (Danny) Bennett, one of his sons, who, with his business sense and savvy – and unbreakable belief in his dad – re-packaged Tony and showed new generations the legend (to much joint acclaim and with masses of success)…and the incredible – also legendary – Ralph Sharon, Tony’s pianist for many years but, so very vitally importantly, also his arranger. Nelson Riddle was largely credited with Frank Sinatra’s success later in his, Frank’s, career and there’s no doubt that Ralph was an intrinsic ingredient in Tony’s later success. Team effort.
Tony Bennett has the power to move me like only he and Frank Sinatra can – there are other great musicians, other great performers, I must mention Mel Tormé, his voice is so pure and sweet, but Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett are different. They put themselves INTO the music like no others do.
Frank, in a 1965 ‘profile’ in ‘Life Magazine’, said:
“For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. [He] gets across what the composer had in mind, and probably a little more”,
and, Tony, so magnanimous and complementary, in a recent CBS interview (with Anthony Mason) marking Frank’s 100th birthday, he said:
“I heard that no one did it better. He’s just a gorgeous singer, understood the art of intimate singing”,
…and there it is, that ‘thing’ that makes Frank’s and Tony’s singing, their music, different, the connection with the audience, that genius for story telling – no one does it like Tony and Frank, no one’s music moves me like Tony’s and Frank’s. Watching Tony Bennett perform in concert were surreal experiences…special nights in my life!!
George Evans, Frank’s legendary PR man, ‘got it’ when he saw Frank in the early days:
(as quoted in James Kaplan’s masterpiece of a biography of Frank Sinatra –
book 1, “Frank, The Making of a Legend” [aka “Frank, The Voice”] [book 2 is titled “The Chairman”]):
“But Evans saw that Sinatra’s visual appeal, while unique, was limited. What got to the girls was that voice – specifically, the unique blend of that personality and that voice. Other singers were better to look at. Others had winning personalities and terrific voices. But no one, absolutely no one, got his personality into the voice like this kid. He sold a song, and told a song, like nobody else. Especially, of course, if the song was a ballad. He yearned in front of thousands of females, making every girl in the place want to mother him or scr*w him – Sinatra had each and every one of them in a dither about which. But he had to be heard”……. “Frank was just…the Voice. Simple. Instantly recognizable. You didn’t have to ask whose. Accept no substitutes. This was it, now and for all time.”
Just as I ‘wrote’ in a recent Sinatra blog, it’s impossible for me to pick a favourite Sinatra song, there are simply too many beautiful, outstanding pieces of music, but I did mention a few that I love. Same with Tony, so many beautiful songs that I can’t pick a favourite but I can’t let this blog go without referencing a few. As I ‘wrote’ in the Sinatra blog, there is so much more to Frank than “My Way” (although it is one of my favourites – it’s SO Frank!) and, likewise, there’s so much more to Tony Bennett than “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” (which, I add, I do love).
I want to kick off with Bart Howard’s 1954 magical ‘standard’, “Fly Me To The Moon” (originally “In Other Words”), a song I might have heard more times than any other, not just by Tony, but as recorded and performed by so many artists. I really don’t know whose rendition is, for me, THE version. I have 3 favourites, joint favourites, and that is ok as the 3 singers bring something different to the song, each singer interprets the lyrics differently – personally:
1994, Tony’s MTV Unplugged concert (a masterpiece/masterclass of a concert/show), surely one of his finest hours (which gave us his 1994 MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett album). Watch, and listen, to this (and there’s the wonderful Ralph Sharon on piano) – outstanding:
Here’s Frank’s – not better, not worse, just different:
The third version, glorious, so sultry, from the incomparable Julie London:
….back to Tony and staying with that wonderful 1994 ‘Unplugged’ concert, watch this, a meltingly glorious “Autumn Leaves” which runs seamlessly into “Indian Summer” – Ralph Sharon’s piano playing is dreamy, as is the arrangement (which I assume is thanks to Ralph). This is one of my favourite You Tube videos…the warmth that emanates from Tony is palpable as I watch this…it is exquisite:
Wonderful!! An aside, Frank’s “Autumn Leaves” is something really special (one of my favourite song intros).
So, SO many great songs!! I must include this beautiful song by Leslie Bricusse and Tony Newley – why? Simply because it’s too wonderful not to be included!
“Who Can I Turn To?”
Next up, Tony’s magnificent, powerful version of Ralph MacDonald’s “Mr. Magic” (lyrics by William Salter), 1974, originally recorded by the late, great Grover Washington, Jr (MacDonald and Salter also wrote “Where Is The Love”, recorded so beautifully by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, and “Just The Two Of Us”, which was a three-way composition – included Bill Withers [Withers, with Washington, Jr., also recorded it]):
Now, going back a long way…back to when Tony was just 14, 1940, although this next song was recorded by Tony in 1951. “Because of You” (Arthur Hammerstein, Dudley Wilkinson), Tony’s first major hit. So atmospheric, I love it. Pure Tony Bennett – for me, this is him. Listen to the beautiful lyrics!!
Staying in 1951, one of Tony’s ‘immortal’ favourites, Hank Williams, recorded, in 1951, this next song, “Cold, Cold Heart” (Williams adapted T. Texas Tyler’s 1945 recording of Ted West’s “You’ll Still Be In My Heart” ). Tony also recorded it in 1951. It reached No.1 in the “Billboard” magazine charts (thanks, Wikipedia!):
Another piece in the jigsaw of the most beautiful music given to the world!!
Next up, this is sublime! Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, 1936 (yes, Charlie Chaplin composed the instrumental, featured in ‘Modern Times’ in 1936) – John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics and the title in 1954. Think about that, music written by Charlie Chaplin and heard in the classic ‘Modern Times’…no pressure, Tony!! (Incidentally, Michael Jackson recorded a beautiful version):
This next song, I can’t put into words how beautiful it is…in my last blog, I wrote that I love lots of music, lots of genres, lots of musicians but that the only music I’m IN LOVE WITH is Frank Sinatra’s. Listening, yet again, to this next song, I realise that that isn’t true. I’m also IN LOVE WITH Tony Bennett’s music.
“The Shadow of your Smile” (“Love Theme from ‘The Sandpiper’ “). This masterpiece, written by Johnny Mandel, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, won the 1966 Grammy Award for Song of the Year (1966’s awards related to accomplishments in 1965) and the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1965:
A couple of corkers to finish…
Tony Bennett is unique!! Talk about longevity!!
Amy Winehouse, another ‘real deal’: WHAT A LOSS! (sounds like Billie Holiday, another of Tony’s favourites).
I could go on and on….
Tony Bennett, I salute you!! As I said to you after one of your concerts, when you were sitting in your limo and you reached out and shook my hand,
“Thank you for the music”.