[JPL] Still Singing, Still Swinging, Still Alive in the Moment

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 29 16:41:29 EDT 2006

September 28, 2006
Music Review | 'Tony Bennett'
Still Singing, Still Swinging, Still Alive in the
“I Got Rhythm”: those three little words define the
spirit of Tony Bennett at 80. To put it another way:
“It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing.”
For Mr. Bennett, that swing is an article of faith.
Maybe a performer has to be a certain age for the kind
of rhythmic mastery commanded by Mr. Bennett to assume
a forceful spiritual resonance. To swing as hard as he
does at 80 means to be on top of things. And for Mr.
Bennett, being on top of things means being truly
joyful and alive in the moment. 

In Mr. Bennett’s case it is also an opportunity to
assert his aesthetic creed: a belief in the
traditional values embedded in popular standards.
Musically that means choosing sophisticated pop-jazz
narratives that adhere to a rigid structure and bowing
down to the masters: Gershwin, Ellington, Berlin et

Lyrically it involves committing to songs that profess
a bedrock belief that things last, including
passionate love. On the rare occasion a song doesn’t
culminate in a happy ending, Mr. Bennett does his best
to supply it.

A prime example of the emphatically positive approach
taken by Mr. Bennett and his wonderful quartet (Lee
Musiker on piano, Paul Langosch on bass, Harold Jones
on drums and Gray Sargent on guitar) on Tuesday at the
Theater at Madison Square Garden was his exhilarating
performance of “Old Devil Moon.” The singer and his
crew swung it lightly at first, then bore down more
heavily as they built it to an explosive final
assertion of the line “Blinds me with love,” the word
“love” drawn out for several seconds with a full
belting intensity.

Now and then there were vestiges of the throbbing
lyricism of the crooner of 40 years ago. “I Left My
Heart in San Francisco” and “For Once in My Life,”
both sung quietly until their stentorian finales, were
suffused with a husky, bittersweet nostalgia. An
arrangement of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart” for
guitar and voice swung it delicately. 

After his version became a hit in 1951, Mr. Bennett
recalled, he received a phone call from Williams in
Nashville, accusing him of ruining the song. (He
didn’t; he just sweetened and softened it.)

The concert coincided with the release of Mr.
Bennett’s 80th-birthday album, “Tony Bennett Duets: An
American Classic” (RPM/Columbia), an all-star
blockbuster collection of his signature songs
rerecorded as duets with younger acolytes, from Bono
to Celine Dion to John Legend. Two of his partners
from the record, Michael Bublé (whom Mr. Bennett
introduced as “the best contemporary artist”) and
Elvis Costello (in fine voice), joined him to perform
their respective duets from the album, “Just in Time”
and “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” 

Natalie Cole, who opened for Mr. Bennett with a short
set from her new album, “Leavin’ ” (Verve), reappeared
to sing “Smile,” a 1954 hit for her father, Nat King
Cole, that Mr. Bennett revived five years later and
sings on his new album with Barbra Streisand. Ms.
Cole, who has taken a sabbatical from pop-jazz,
returned to her 70’s soul sound with a frisky version
of Aretha Franklin’s old hit “Day Dreaming.” And in a
striking change of pace, she sang a bare, penetrating
version of Neil Young’s “Old Man” that went deeper
than she usually goes. 

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