Published in The Hamilton Spectator on Tuesday, May 27 1997

 

   TONY BENNETT: CRUISIN' AND CROONIN'

 

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

Maybe TONY BENNETT should think twice the next time he cancels out on Hamilton Place.

The popular Italian crooner, riding a wave of popularity that continues to crest since he received an Album Of The Year Grammy for 1994's Tony Bennett - MTV Unplugged, staged a last-minute pull-out of his scheduled November 6 concert because newly re-elected U.S. president BILL CLINTON summoned him...for dinner!

However, as Bennett recalls from his New York loft, once he arrived in Washington he never got the opportunity to peruse the White House menu.

"It was a funny situation, because it ended up being something that will never happen again in my life," says Bennett, the first entertainer to officially open Hamilton Place back in September, 1973. (Tickets for the September 29-30 concerts were $5, $7.50, and $10.)

"I was born with a double hernia, and I was invited, not to sing but just to have dinner with him with my son at the White House. The night I went there -- we canceled out of the Hamilton date as a result, and they were nice enough to let me do that -- I got strangulated in the hotel room.

"Instead of going to dinner, all of a sudden I went to the infirmary, and had the President's doctor check me out. They rushed me to the hospital, and I had an emergency operation. It was really strange."

Bennett says he was initially concerned about the surgery because a first operation didn't take. But he says he was in good hands.

"They did a magnificent job," reports Bennett, 70. "It was flawless. I woke up, it was all fixed, and it couldn't have been better."

Also helping the healing process was good friend DONALD TRUMP, who sent Bennett down to Florida in his private jet for a three-week all-expenses paid convalescence.

"It was one of those great adventures that will never happen again," says Bennett. "Everything worked out for the best."

Hamilton Place patrons should be able to decide that for themselves tomorrow night when the New York-born son of a seamstress and former singing waiter rolls out a set that includes material from his latest album On Holiday, a tribute to the late, great jazz 'n blues vocalist BILLIE HOLIDAY.

"I've always listened to the old masters in music," says Bennett. "DUKE ELLINGTON and COUNT BASIE, and all of the great musicians: JOE JONES, LESTER YOUNG. I had my training right on 52nd Street, and there were these little clubs where all these great artists played.

"Billie Holiday was their goddess. You had ART TATUM or GEORGE SHEARING or STAN GETZ or ERROLL GARNER. When Billie Holiday showed up, the overflow from the people who couldn't get into her club would just fill up all the other little clubs. She was the goddess of all the musicians I ever met of great talent. They're the ones who tried to play their phrase and their instruments like Billie Holiday sang."

Bennett himself sings a studio fabricated duet with her on "God Bless The Child", following a trend set by HANK WILLIAMS JR. and NATALIE COLE who sang with their fathers long after they were buried.

"No. I invented it," asserts Bennett. "I did it on the JOHNNY CARSON Show. It was a NAT (KING) COLE song called `Nature Boy', and I sang it just with the piano. For the very last notes, the lights would go out completely, the whole orchestra would flow in, and you'd hear this recording of Nat singing the last line of the song.

"That was the invention, and unfortunately on television, if you do something clever enough, within two weeks everybody's doing it."

That isn't the only discovery for which Bennett takes credit. Don't blame it on the bossa nova -- blame it on Tony Bennett.

"I met JOAO GILBERTO, and (ANTONIO CARLOS) JOBIM and ASTRUD GILBERTO right on the beach in Brazil, and I couldn't get over it," Bennett recalls. "They were influenced by American jazz, and then they just applied it to their Brazilian beat. They invented this beat -- it's a drum beat that has an accent on the second beat rather than the third beat. All of a sudden it no longer was the samba. It became the bossa nova. And Joao Gilberto was the interpreter, and made some beautiful records.

"When I got back from Brazil -- the first thing I did was went to San Francisco and showed the disc jockeys there Joao's records. It just took of like a blaze -- like fire to kerosene, right across the whole country. Everybody started playing it right away."

Bennett also takes pride as the first Caucasian singer to front Count Basie's Band, and fondly recalls the band's worst gig.

"I never got over it," he laughs. "I don't remember where it was, but it was a triangle, or a rectangle room. The saxes were on one side, and the trumpets and trombones were on the other side. I was at the point where they both met. It was like we were playing two different rooms at the same time.

"There was a board over some water, so we had a plank we had to walk on to get to the stage so we wouldn't fall into the water."

Bennett says his Basie years were fun, and is looking forward to the future, preparing to record a children's album. He confesses though that he's beginning to feel the years.

"At 70, it was kind of a big gulp for me," he admits. "I had to catch my breath. I really happen to like what I do enough to say I wish I had two lifetimes to finish what I want to do.

"I felt the time clock for the first time. I feel the race is on, which I never felt before. When I was younger, I was just singing. I didn't feel the mortality rate. So now, everyday counts. I've got so much more I can do. "

Although he's enjoying unprecedented success in touching all generations with his music, and his parallel career as a painter is simultaneously taking off, Tony Bennett says the one treasure you can never take for granted is friendship.

"Friends become the most important thing," advises Bennett. "When you feel a failure about something, you feel down in the dumps, there's always some wonderful friend who'll come and be wonderful enough to lift you up and say, 'Well, what about this, ' and change your whole spirit."

Bennett recalls a particular gloomy time in his life when jazz greats Duke Ellington and LOUIE BELLSON lifted his heart in New York City.

"I was separated for the first time from my sons, while I was going through my first divorce. I never felt lower in my life. I was in a hotel in New York on Christmas Eve, and I'm one of those guys who is a sucker for Christmas, and the whole family getting together.

"So it's the first time I was ever alone, away from everybody. And I heard a chorus singing, and I thought my TV was on. I walked to my hotel room door, opened it up, and there was a chorus of every denomination singing `On A Clear Day You Can See Forever', and it just changed my life.

"It was Louie Bellson and Duke Ellington who sent them up to my hotel room. They were doing their Sacred concert across the street, and they heard that I was in that room by myself, and they sent the whole chorus up to me.

"I realized, wow, what great friends, to take the time out to think of someone else."

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

 

1957 -- The Beat Of My Heart

1958--  Bennett Sings Basie Swings

1959 -- Tony Sings For Two

1959 -- In Person!

1960 -- Sings A String Of Harold Arlen

1962 -- I Left My Heart In San Franscisco

1962 -- At Carnegie Hall: Recorded Live June 9, 1962

1963 -- I Wanna Be Around

1964 -- Who Can I Turn To

1965 -- If I Ruled The World.: Songs

1966 -- The Movie Song Album

1968 -- Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album

1970 -- Tony Bennett Sings His All Time Hall-Of-Fame Hits

1970 -- Something

1972 -- All Time Greatest Hits

1973 -- The Rodgers And Hart Songbook

1977 -- Together Again

1979 -- The Special Magic Of Tony Bennett

1982 -- Always Around

1986 -- The Art Of Excellence

1986 -- Chicago

1986 -- 16 Most Requested Songs

1987 -- Tony Bennett Jazz

1987 -- Bennett/Berlin

1990 -- The Good Life

1990 -- Astoria: Portrait Of The Artist

1991 -- Forty Years...

1991 -- Best Of Tony Bennett

1992 -- Perfectly Frank

1993 -- Steppin' Out

1994 -- MTV Unplugged

1996 -- Here's To The Ladies

1997 -- On Holiday

1997 -- Life Is A Song

1998 -- The Playground

Dates unknown

All Time Favorites

Bill Evans And Company

Hollywood And Broadway

Jazz Collector Edition

Make Magnificent Music

Meets Gene Krupa

Songs From The Heart

Super Hits

The Essence Of Tony Bennett

The Many Moods Of Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett With The Count Basie Orchestra

COLLABORATIONS

1992 -- Various Artists, Christmas Magic Volume One

1994 -- Various Artists, It Could Happen To You (with Shawn Colvin)

1995 -- Various Artists, Casino

1996 -- Various Artists, A Superstar Christmas

1997 -- Various Artists, My Best Friend's Wedding

1998 -- Various Artists, Midnight In The Garden Of Good & Evil

 

FILM:

The Oscar

AWARDS

1962 -- Grammy, Record Of The Year -- "I Left My Heart In San Francisco"

1962 -- Grammy, Best SoloVocal Performance, Male -- I Left My Heart In San            Francisco

1992 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance -- Perfectly Frank

1993--  Grammy, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance -- Steppin' Out

1994 -- Grammy, Album Of The Year -- MTV Unplugged

1994 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance -- MTV Unplugged

1996 -- Grammy, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance -- Here's To The            Ladies

 

BACKGROUNDER

 

Anthony Dominick Benedetto shares a birthdate with Elvis Presley. Born August 13 , 1926 in Queens, New York, Bennett studied his two main muses -- music and painting -- at the High School Of Industrial Arts. In his teens, he worked as a singing waiter.

He flaunted his golden tenor during a stint in the U.S. army's entertainment unit in World War II and upon his discharge worked with Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village under the pseudonym Joe Bari.

He was spotted in 1949 by Bob Hope, who signed him to his own Paramount show and changed his named to Tony Bennett. A 1950 audition with Mitch Miller landed him his Columbia Records contract, but it wasn't until six years later than Bennett charted his first Top 20 hit, "Can You Find It In Your Heart."

In 1962 he made the first of his many comebacks, charting his signature song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," and you could always find pianist Ralph Sharon backing him in one form or another.

In the '60s he also became an activist, joining Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.

In 1991, Bennett performed at The Prince Edward Theatre in London to celebrate his 40th year in the business, and during the ensuing decade his numerous appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman" introduced him to the younger, MTV audience.

Now managed by his son Danny, a successful campaign to get him back in the limelight resulted in a surprising Album Of The Year Grammy for 1994's MTV Unplugged. He has sold over 40 million records.

The premier interpreter of classic American songwriters and the man who knows it ain't quite that thing if it ain't got no swing, Tony Bennett is also a respected painter whose works have been exhibited in New York, London and Paris.

 

THANKS: Lorraine Quartraro, Doug Foley

©1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

 

Home

About Octopus Media Ink