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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tony Bennett at the Chevrolet Theater: A Review

In 1991, I had an opportunity to see Frank Sinatra at Radio City Music Hall and blew it. Ten years later, I blew an opportunity to see Ray Charles in concert. The regret I've harbored in both cases was instrumental in motivating me to jump on the opportunity to score tickets to Tony Bennett's appearance Saturday night at the Chevrolet Theater in Wallingford, Connecticut. And now, I can say it was my pleasure to witness the greatest living vocal interpreter of popular song practice his craft.

Very rarely these days does one get the chance to truly be in the presence of musical greatness. Tonight, I have been. Mr. Bennett was in top form, holding court like the consummate professional and artist he still is after more than 60 years in the business.

Backed by an intimate ensemble of piano, guitar, bass and drums (played by former Count Basie drummer Harold Jones), Bennett effortlessly put forth heartwarming performances of such tunes as "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing," "The Best Is Yet to Come," "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "For Once in My Life". A deeply appreciative audience listened in rapt attention as he spun yarns of his days breaking into show biz with Rosemary Clooney, and launched into a particularly powerful rendition of his all-time signature hit "I Left My Heart in San Francisco".

And it wasn't just his most familiar material that the 82-year-old marvel turned to this evening. He also gave the audience a touching performance of the 1943 Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash song "Speak Low," and the lesser-known Gershwin tune "Who Cares", which the singer comically tied into the current economic crisis. He wrapped things up quite emotionally with the 1982 Michel Legrand song "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?", and despite taking several bows, he surprisingly didn't give an encore.

The blessed crowd that evening would have to make do with what they got--an hour and a half with a living and breathing American treasure.


Jack said...

I've now seen Tony Bennett four times, twice in Boston in the late 90s, and two years ago at Chevrolet and this Saturday night concert you wrote about. I've always enjoyed the concerts but always fantasized about watching him up close in a small jazz club, which would be his element. For this show, I splurged a little and got up pretty close to the stage. Completely worth the effort.
He is nothing if not the consummate professional and interpreter of these songs. Such a stylist, and the way he manipulates his voice, lending texture to every phrase, was mesmerizing. My wife and I brought are young kids because this man is the last connection to an age of class in entertainment, but also because we knew they'd love it. And they did.

You're right on the money about "Heart" and the closer, "How do you keep the music playing." That was quite poignant, and would be, the way he sang it, whether he was 32 or 82.

There are only three performances I will see everytime I can: Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and Tony Bennett -- all of them care deeply, I think, about their audience and about their music ...

Come to think of it, and this also occurred to me Saturday night as I experienced Mr. Bennett's passion for the music, isn't a Springsteen-Bennett duet, (or concert!) overdue? I think that spiritually, emotionally, and certainly geographically, they come from similar neighborhoods ...
Thanks for the review -- love to read them after a concert, but not sure if any media critics were there

B-Sol said...

The concert received very little media attention. I almost think it may have been a tune-up for his DC performance coming up on Wednesday.
Funny you should mention Springsteen, because I was also thinking he's another performer who cares very deeply about his music. Their styles are so very different though, and I just don't know if the Boss has the vocal chops to keep up with Tony...

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