An American classic returns to Atlantic City following another No. 1 album
Listen to Tony Bennett’s 1959 album Blue Velvet and then listen to his latest CD, last September’s Duets II, and it’s difficult to distinguish between the young Tony (born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on Aug 3, 1926, in New York, N.Y.) and the elder Tony, now 85.
Not only is it astonishing that he’s been singing since the 1940s — starting in the military in WWII as his autobiography describes in great detail — but the iconic singer’s voice has remained as cool, refined and downright elegant over all those wonderful years. And they have been wonderful if you ask him.
“I am very fortunate, you know,” Bennett says during a recent phone interview from his New York home with Atlantic City Weekly. “I’m really blessed with a lot of luck, you know, and [I’m] in top health and I really love it because I made a commitment to myself to never retire, because I have a lot to learn yet. I’m 85 and I’m studying sculpturing now for the first time, studying music. So I’m still doing a lot of studying.”
Bennett still does a lot of recording and performing as well.
“And I like it, I like my life,” he says. “I love being alive and the gift of being alive. It’s a great gift and everybody should feel that way.”
Last August Bennett spent his 85th birthday week in a New York City studio with Lady Gaga, where the odd couple hit it off and recorded a steaming version of “The Lady Is a Tramp.”
Lady Gaga, as well as 16 other artists — from John Mayer, Michael Bublé, Norah Jones, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carey and k.d. lang to Josh Groban, Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow, Andrea Bocelli, Faith Hill, Alejandro Sanz and the late Amy Winehouse — sang a song with Bennett for the album, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. (His first Duets album, a little tamer, reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts when it was released in 2006.)
“My gosh, to be 85 and go number one on Billboard,” Bennett says, “I told everybody, I said, ‘it’s never going to happen again I don’t think.’”
Bennett says that working with Gaga was a treat.
“She’s fabulous. She’s one of the best performers I’ve ever met. And so intelligent, so creative. A very talented singer, and a terrific piano [player], and she dances great and she creates a new day. With each day she does something different. She’s really very talented.”
Bennett picked all of the songs for Duets II, and his son Danny chose the artists.
“A lot of [the artists] I never knew about because I like listening to classical music and jazz. So the contemporary stuff doesn’t move me so much. But I was very impressed when I finally met the group that he chose for me. They were all, [even] more so than on the first Duets album ... very prepared and they knew everything that they had to do.”
All American songbook classics, the songs on Duets II do not sound contrived or over-rehearsed. Rather, on a song like “One for My Baby (And One More For The Road),” Bennett and John Mayer joke around like old chums with some sweet improvisation going on between the two artists. On his duet with Willie Nelson, “The Sunny Side of the Street,” the pair breathes a whole new life into the timeless song. For the Johnny Green tune “Body & Soul,” Bennett sang with the late Amy Winehouse. He later called her one of the most focused and professional artists that he’s ever collaborated with. (His favorite collaborator of all time? When pressed he names New Jersey’s own Count Basie.)
“[Winehouse] was a great jazz singer,” says Bennett. “You know it’s not easy to sing jazz. It’s not like someone can wake up one morning and say, ‘Well I’m gonna be a singer, but I’m gonna sing jazz.’ You’ve either got that gift or you don’t have it. It’s not something you could learn; it’s something that you’re just blessed with. That feeling of syncopating, you know, turning phrases and soul, and concept, and certain tempos that are just right. It’s a thing if you know how to do it you can do it just like on my [duet with Mayer]. He’s a great blues singer, you know, people don’t realize how really good he is, he’s got a great range and he can sing in his normal key but then go way down into bass notes and everything, he’s got a great range, a vocal range. He knows how to sing the blues.”
Danny Bennett supervised the filming of all of the stunning recording sessions for Duets II; some of which can be seen online as individual videos. The sessions were done in studios all over the world, with a crack band backing Bennett and his partners in song.
"Jazz is all-American, like baseball," he said. "But I don't think it's ever really been given the respect it deserves. If it had, [jazz] wouldn't be treated as some kind of an after-thought. It would be mainstream."
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Five Ways to Appreciate Tony Bennett in Celebration of His 80th Birthday The crooner of all crooners, the voice of all voices, Tony Bennett, now an octogenarian, is still going strong. Here's a few ways to bring some Tony into your life. 1. Read his page-turning autobiography, The Good Life (1998, Atria). 2. Pick up a copy of the new Duets album (Columbia), which pairs the crooner with guests like Bono, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Babs -- riffing on signature Bennett tunes. 3. Go to YouTube (keywords: Bennett, SNL) and watch Saturday Night Live's late '06 Bennett tribute featuring Alec Baldwin as Bennett and the singer as impersonator Phony Bennett. 4. Go see him live this weekend in Atlantic City (Jan. 26 & Jan. 27) at Harrah's. 5. Dust off some old records and listen to them. -- Jeff Schwachter Welcome Winter Now that the outdoor temperatures are finally in sync with the calendar and you're actually picking up that bag of salt at the supermarket instead of walking by the display and laughing out loud, it's time to bundle up and think about hitting a few of the many indoor cultural activities offered in our region. For instance, you can spend an...
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The question clearly caught Tony Bennett by surprise. We were in his dressing room at Resorts Casino Hotel, back when the First Game In Town was still owned by show-biz mogul Merv Griffin. Our conversation was being taped for the syndicated television series Backstage Pass, which I hosted from 1992-97. Midway through our spirited and insightful chat, Bennett offered his theory on why his music had struck a responsive chord with the MTV crowd, kids who had been weaned on heavy metal and alternative rock. After explaining how his jazz and pop songs had bridged two generation gaps - kids, their parents and grandparents - it occurred to me that he sounded less like a saloon singer and more like a hip family therapist. "Could we be hearing from Tony Bennett, pop psychologist?" I asked, not immediately realizing the pun. The word play wasn't lost on the entertainer. "Hey, I really like the way that sounds," the singer said. "Nobody ever called me that. Pop psychologist. Pop music. Yeah, that fits." Of all the labels that have been hung on him during a career that's spanned nearly 60 years, pop psychologist is the one that seems to be the most accurate. The elder statesman of popular music,...
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