Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bennett, '62, Lullaby of Broadway

Somebody told me about 15 years ago that the only reason Tony Bennett was still receiving such attention is because he has outlasted everybody else.

This was said in the afterglow of "Steppin' Out" and MTV "Unplugged."

I offer "Tony Bennett at Carnegie Hall," June 9, 1962, as Exhibit A for the defense. It's considered a classic now, but Bennett buffs will tell you, "This is the album that made Anthony Benedetto TONY BENNETT!"

It is playing tonight, softly, on the player. And, my goodness, what a record.

If you don't have it, get the complete concert, released on compact disc by Columbia in '97.

Oh, let's see. Where to begin? 

"Lullaby of Broadway" makes you jump. "Fascinating Rhythm" makes you smile. "Our Love is Here to Stay" makes you miss your sweetheart. (Mine is away on this rainy Good Friday.)

I have been a sucker for "Stranger in Paradise" since I first heard Bennett's original recording. Hearing him sing it live, that youthful voice full of fire, well, wow.

He goes into Harold Arlen's "I've Got the World on a String," and reinvents it after giving a generous nod to his buddy Francis Albert Sinatra, whom he calls "the president of popular music," and this was long before William B. dubbed Frankie the Chairman of the Board. Bennett sings it slowly, ballad-style, Ralph Sharon (who else?) playing softly on piano.

But *the moment* happens when Bennett begins what was then a brand-new tune "(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco." It's his signature song now, his "New York, New York," if you will, but on this long ago summer night, it's a moment, and it works. Spontaneous applause greets it; thunderous claps follow it.

Tony Bennett has gone on to record so many memorable songs, so many amazing albums. "When Joanna Loved Me." That beautiful session with Bill Evans. "The Art of Excellence." And, yep, "Unplugged."

But on June 9, 1962, at Carnegie Hall in The City That Never Sleeps, he put his name in the annals of popular music forever.

And, that, my friends, is why Tony is terrific, why he still matters, why seeing him on TV these days is such a treat, why lovers of good music will be listening to him 50 years from now. 

The defense rests.



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