VIENNA, Va. — Playing to a seemingly sold-out crowd, Tony Bennett shared quite a few stories from his six decades as a performer.
“I was singing with Pearl Bailey,” Bennett told the audience. “Bob Hope was appearing with Jane Russell and the Les Brown Band at the Paramount Theater, and he came to see the show. He said that he liked me; I was the only white kid in the show. When Mr. Hope asked me my name, I told him Joe Bari, and he responded, ‘That’s a city in Italy.’ “
“When I told him my real name, Anthony Dominick Benedetto, he said it was too long for a marquee and shortened it to Tony Bennett. Bob Hope gave me my name,” Bennett continued. (Please note: My notes were taken in a dark theater, and I have tried to get the quote as accurate as possible!)
During the one-and-a-half hour show, we were treated to a lot of great old songs.“I only sing the old songs. The new ones just aren’t as good,” Bennett explained.
There were also warm anecdotes, a bit of scat, a world-class band that was fully attuned to each other, some fun soft shoe and Bennett’s daughter, Antonia, who opened the show.
Antonia Bennett, an accomplished jazz singer, showed her appreciation of the Great American Songbook, opening with Diana Krall’s “Too Marvelous,” following it with Noel Coward’s “Sail Away,” and dedicating “You’re a Lucky Guy” to her father before closing with George Gershwin’s “S’ Wonderful.”
Stepping out from the wings, Tony Bennett was met with thunderous applause, opening with Liza Minnelli’s “Maybe This Time” and following it up with “Everybody Loves a Winner,” lyrics by William Bell.
It was instantly obvious that he was as happy to be there, doing what he does, as those in the audience were to be there. And that audience was very age-mixed, with many an under-30 couple on a date along with those quite a bit older.
When one couple was asked how they enjoyed the show, the young man answered, “It’s taken me a while to get her to listen,” to which his date responded, “I was wrong. This was good. That man can sing.”
The show moved along at a quick, professional pace that comes from an ensemble of musicians who know their craft. The 84-year-old Bennett was energetic far beyond the stereotype of those his age. His voice was strong with hardly a falter on a clear, waning Gibbous moon night beneath the stars at Wolf Trap.
What was so impressive was Bennett’s ability to direct his band — and I have heard that he never plays a song the same way twice — leading pianist Lee Musiker, guitarist Gray Sargent, drummer Harold Jones (whom Bennett introduced as Count Basie’s favorite drummer) and bassist Marshall Wood with deft skill, introducing each musician and graciously sharing the stage’s bright, center spotlight.
The show was filled with warmth and laughter. Bennett proved that he still wears a jacket and tie so very well, revealing his still very sexy side with Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low (When You Speak Love).”
Antonia Bennett returned to the stage to perform Steven Sondheim’ s “Hey Old Friend” with her dad, during which they performed an impressive bit of well-choreographed soft shoe, a graceful form of tap dance that is performed without the metal on the shoes, or “soft.”
The audience showed its satisfication with the string of standards, frequently rising for standing ovations as Tony Bennett elegantly sang Ray Bolger’s “Once Upon a Time,” dedicated “The Good Life” to Lady Gaga (and I would guess that a large portion of the audience had no idea who that might have been) and “Once In My Life.”
Bennett clearly enjoyed the fast-paced jazz songs like “The Best is Yet to Come,” “Just in Time” and Gershwin’s “Who Cares,” as he was dancing and twirling with eyes twinkling, but my favorites were the softly sung “Shadow of Your Smile,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” and of course, “ I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
There were more quick anecdotes: A story about Frank Sinatra, whom he called “my best friend; ” Astoria, N.Y. (his hometown); and introducing the song “Smile” by saying that the composer, who lived in Switzerland sent him a note thanking him for “resurrecting my song.”
That composer was Charlie Chaplin.
It was an evening of musical elan delivered by a maestro and his court, keeping the mere mortals in the audience enthralled through to that final song, “How Do You Keep the Music Going?”
Leaving the venue, all I could think is that Tony Bennett is still the perfect voice to fall in love with, be in love with and recover from the heartbreak that love can bring.
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