Tony Bennett wows TCA critics at PBS gig

The one and only. Photo: Rahoul Ghose/PBS

PASADENA, CA–Tony Bennett forgot a few words to one of the songs he sang for critics attending the TCA press tour Thursday night–evidence that he is mortal.
Otherwise, the legendary singer ran up the steps leading to the stage, in the dark, and belted out one show-stopping tune after another. Maybe This Time. The Way You Look Tonight. I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
He was backed by four jazz cats who never missed a beat. It was a private, 40-minutes show, just for critics. It was heaven on earth.
As fellow Canadian journalist Brad Oswald tweeted later, “Who gets to do this?”
Bennett is 85 years old. He is the oldest performer to top the Billboard charts, a feat he accomplished last year with his latest, Duets II.
PBS brought him here from New York to put on a show and to promote Great Performances “Tony Bennett: Duets II,” premiering Jan. 27. Please give generously to their next pledge drive.
Seeing him live is a kick-and-a-half. His showmanship, as you might expect from someone with 60+ years experience, is sensational. With a look, a nod, and hand gesture, he directed the audience where ever he wanted us to go.
It is his voice, however, which astounds. Still firm and full of melody, Bennett plays it like a jazz horn, takes it high and low, then reaches for these power notes nobody his age could possibly hit. At this stage, the man could talk his way through San Francisco and get a standing O. Instead, he took risks, big risks, and delivered on every one. The man kicked our ass.
We kicked back several standing ovations.Pretty much the last four songs got people out of their seats.
After the set, Bennett was joined by his son Danny Bennett–who manages his dad’s career–and took as many questions as critics could throw at him. Why has he lasted? He only sings great songs. Songs from the Great American Songbook by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg, Always has. Never did disco–despite recording 74 albums!

Bennett put on a clinic in class

He came of age during the depression and always worked hard at getting better. Still does.
He had great teachers, singling out the education in the arts he got immediately following his service in World War II. That G.I, Loan Bill worked wonders, he said.
He heaped praise on one of his duet partners on the new album, Lady Gaga. Says she is loaded with talent. Was impressed with the respect she showed everyone in the studio when their  duet on The Lady is a Tramp was recorded. (Bennett sang all the duets live–no studio monkey business.)
Canadians Michael Buble and k.d. lang are also on the album.
Has no time for performers who don’t respect the audience.
With some prodding from Danny, he spoke about the schools he has built in New York. Named the first one after his ol’ pal Frank Sinatra. There are over a dozen schools now. He told us 97% of the kids go on to college.
Says he won’t rest until every school in America has an arts program.
Had he heard about Glee? Wouldn’t know a Glee from a Gaga. Son Danny keeps him up to speed.
Will he ever retire? Never. If the voice goes, he’ll keep painting. (Three of his art works are in the Smithsonian.)
If he comes near your town, run to see him. This kid needs your support.

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