August 5, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Saturday August 3rd was the birthday of Tony Bennett. 87 and ageless. He's always been one of my favorite singers, one of everyone's favorite singers.
Here are my favorite songs that he's recorded, or I've heard him sing, through the years: I'll celebrate Tony's birthday belatedly and spotlight these songs on my next edition of Singers Unlimited on Sunday, August 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Happy birthday, Tony!
"Being Alive" on The Art of Romance
Great song from the Sondheim musical Company. Phil Woods solos, Tony's great friend Candido plays congas, and it feels so good that his singing is nonetheless so "alive"-ly.
"But Beautiful" from his album with Bill Evans
Tony told me that Bill played variation after variation of the songs they were about to record, listening for the right feeling for the songs. Tony asked the engineer if he'd been recording Bill playing, and the engineer said no. Tony said it was some of the most beautiful music he's ever heard, said that Bill's variations alone would've been one of the greatest albums (n)ever recorded.
"If I Could Go Back" from Tell Her It's Snowing on MGM
Bacharach and David song from the infamous flop movie musical of "Lost Horizon," meant to be sung by Peter Finch as he wonders whether to return to Shangri-la -- only, Peter Finch couldn't sing and the song was cut from the soundtrack. Tony's recording is downright operatic and powerful, one of his most dramatic vocals.
Twist is: the song is not among the thousand or so songs of Tony's "Complete Collection" omni-box of CDs, and I don't know why not.
"Reflections" from Life Is Beautiful on Tony's own label Improv
Duke Ellington song. I'd heard it played as an instrumental, "Reflections in D" by Duke, but I'd never heard the lyric. When John Dankworth and Cleo Laine told me they were recording an Ellington album, I said it was a song that Cleo, more than anyone other than Tony, could sing wonderfully. I sent Tony's recording to them, she sings it (wonderfully indeed) on Cleo's album "Solitude."
"Speak Low" by Kurt Weill
Weill is a composer that he's always felt an affinity for. Tony recorded a long medley of Weill songs at his famous Carnegie concert.
I'll never forget another Carnegie performance when Tony came to the great Ogden Nash lyric "Time is so long and love so brief. Love is pure gold and time a THIEF!" Tony shouted the word "thief" with so much ... anger, really. I was awestruck.
I've heard him sing it many times, on record and in concerts. It's the only song I've ever requested from him, and he sang it for me at the jazzfest in Umbria. It's always a highlight for me at every concert -- but I've never again heard him shout the word "thief" like that concert at Carnegie.
"Stranger In Paradise"
Tony recorded the hit song from one of my favorite musicals, Kismet, before the show opened on Broadway, and the show opened with a hit already on the radio.
Tony's own favorite of the more or less 100 albums he's recorded is The Movie Song Album, and he especially likes "The Shadow of Your Smile" as arranged by the composer, Johnny Mandel.
I like this one, which is the theme song from the only movie he's acted in, "The Oscar" -- not a good movie, but Tony is intense.
"Here's That Rainy Day"
Song by composer Jimmy Van Heusen and lyricist Johnny Burke on Tony's Perfectly Frank album, his tribute to his friend and idol Frank Sinatra. Tony sings an exquisite wordless vocal prelude to what I've often said is the greatest of all standards.
"Alright, Okay, You Win" on Playing with My Friends
"The Best Is Yet To Come" on Duets: An American Classic
Both songs are duets with Diana Krall. Really, my favorite is neither of these.
When Diana was becoming a star at the Montreal Jazz Festival, she played a lovely concert in the Maisonneuve hall, second-biggest of Place des Arts. Tony was singing right after at the Wilfrid-Pelletier hall, first-biggest.
In the middle of his concert, Tony called out Diana, said how much he enjoyed her singing, sat her down at the piano, stood by the piano with a mic in his hand, and said "Sing something."
I remember the moment more than what song -- pretty sure it was "They Can't Take That Away From Me." What was truly memorable was the feeling of Diana being anointed as a singer of standards by one of the greatest singers of standards.
"How Do You Keep The Music Playing?"
Before another concert at the jazzfest in Montreal, Tony was honored with the festival's Ella Fitzgerald Award. He was obviously that much happier than he always is when singing in Montreal.
I expected only to hear maybe the first 20 minutes and then go to another gig, but Tony sounded better than I'd ever heard him, and I stayed. I've heard him for years climaxing a concert with "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?"
This night, he was singing so full-throttle that for the first time I heard a little tiredness in his voice. Would he have chops enough or even breath enough for the high notes at the dramatic finale of the song -- when he sings that "the music NEVER, NEVER ends!" I was literally at the edge of my seat, and he nailed it!
© 2013 WBGO