BENNETT LEAVES FINAL GIFT
FOR THE FUTURE OF MUSIC:
David Bauder explains the nature of the gift
and Ralph Dent feels it to be true
Many great singer-writers leave wonderful catalogues of work, and those songs are a precious gift to leave behind, for generations who will remember them, for new generations who will discover them and for the thousands of artists who might go on to re-interpret them. Thanks to changes to the way we listen to our music now, and due to persuasive journalism, eclectic play-listing music is no longer quite so generational or as categorised as it once was.
Sixty years ago, as I would drive my sons to school they would be wanting The beatles on the fourtrack cartridege, and although I would insist on playing, and sining along with, Tony Bennett singing something like I Left My Heart In San Francisco, a song which today would sit comfortably alongside Penny Lane or Waterloo Sunset and contemporary songs of the 21st century.
On reading an Associated Press commemoration by David Bauder, shortly after Bennett´s death in July I found an article that clarified for me how Bennett has not only left a legacy of wonderful material but left a lasting masterclass about interpretations and readings and collaborations and genres.
What do Paul McCartney, Queen Latifah, Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder have in common? Well, when I was growing up listentng to the genius of Tony Bennet and his jazzy crooning, these were only the un-named stars of future generations that would pass me by, (with the exception perhaps of McCartney !)
Oh, and Aretha Franklin, k.d. lang, Bono and Billy Joel. That is not to mention Carrie Underwood, Judy Garland, John Legend and Placido Domingo
Of course, I loved Judy Garland and admired the tenor of Placido Domingo, but the only other name I know up there is that of Aretha Franklin, and that more for her activist work than her music.
Stop ! Listing all of the musicians who performed duets with Tony Bennett would take up our remaining space. His place in music history is already secure.
Bennett, who died at 96 last month, was indeed “the last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century,” as Charles J. Gans wrote, also for The Associated Press. Yet that summation befits a man frozen in time, consigned to a specific era, and Tony Bennett was anything but that.
Tony Bennett, the legendary musician had a devotion to classic American songs and such a knack for creating new standards such as I Left My Heart In San Francisco that it brought him admirers from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga (left) , has died, but the music has not.
Bennett often said his lifelong ambition was to create “a hit catalogue rather than hit records.” He released more than 70 albums, bringing him 19 competitive Grammys — all but two after he reached his 60s — and enjoyed deep and lasting affection from fans and fellow artists.
Tributes for the New York State of Mind singer have poured in from near and far, worshipping Bennett for his contribution to music as the last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century.
Instead, Bennett transcended generations in a way few musicians have.
He was rightly beloved by older listeners for the way he interpreted the works of songwriters Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin in a strong and stalwart voice that remained true into his 90s. He was influenced by and helped popularise jazz, and marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King to fight for civil rights
He was also admired by those who, if they left their hearts in San Francisco, it was at the corner of Haight-Ashbury, or a trendy dance club.
“I have to think it comes down to the man itself,” said singer Ben Folds, at age 56 four decades younger than Bennett was at the end.
“You hear his voice, it’s super kind, casual and in the moment,” Folds said. “His phrasing is that way, too. There’s nothing that sounds uptight. It’s very generous. A lot of people in his generation didn’t have that appeal because, at the end of the day, you didn’t feel that they cared about you.”
Many of Bennett’s successful late-career duets were a tribute to the savvy marketing of his son and manager, Danny, who kept his dad’s career going long past most peers hit their expiration date.
But famous duet partners could have said no. Few did.
Don’t think they didn’t notice the sweet and tender manner he brought to the studio working with people like Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, (right) Folds said. Bennett’s duet with Winehouse on “Body and Soul” was the last studio recording she made before she died.
Gaga, the New York-born Stefani Germanotta who could appreciate the New York-born Anthony Benedetto, became like family and ushered him through musical triumphs with love even as he suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. Bennett drew and signed an image of Miles Davis’ trumpet that Gaga wears as a tattoo on her arm.
k.d. lang’s formidable voice bowed to no one when she brought it to a series of memorable performances with Bennett in the 1990s.
“He was a place of refuge for the American songbook,” lang told the Associated Press. “He made sure that he loved a song. He would not sing any song that he didn’t love.”
Make no mistake: Bennett brought the goods. Watch a video of him coming onto a Shea Stadium stage to sing “New York State of Mind” with Billy Joel. His guest steals the song, and Joel beams as he watches.
His handiwork has just been blessed by Tony Bennett.
At a San Francisco fundraiser a few years ago, with Alzheimer’s insidious impact already apparent, Folds watched stunned as Bennett switched from remarks to a few bars of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” in perfect pitch.
Bennett exuded an older generation’s class, always performing in a tuxedo or tailored suit. In a Los Angeles hotel room in 1994 when an earthquake hit before dawn, Bennett took the time to change into a suit before joining bathrobe-wearing evacuees, the Los Angeles Times noted.
In all of the work he did with contemporary artists, he never sounded age-inappropriate, said music critic Jim Farber. Bennett always bent them to his musical will, never the other way around, he said.
Something more important was usually happening in the audience.
Two years ago, writer Christine Passarella recalled sitting in lawn chairs in a Brooklyn park in the 1980s with her mother and baby daughter, listening to Bennett sing.
“Seeing him live felt like watching an uncle embracing me and my mom, as his music helped us remember my father, my mom’s one and only love,” she wrote.
Countless numbers of people remember similar moments with family over the years, hearing Bennett’s voice wash warmly over them while sitting with a mother or father, a son or daughter. I’m among them.
That is, ultimately, a legacy to be treasured above all.
.I kidded myself into believing that real day the music died was the birthday of rock and roll as suddenly That Ole Man River dreid up into a stream and I had to sift for gold in ever shallower and drier streams. Occasionally I´d fins Somthing Stupid. My hopes were raised by Tom Jones early hits, but when he became a Sex Bomb I gave up on him too.
However if Tony Bennett could so love music and musians that he would wander freely amongst them, listen to their songs, sing them his and introduce all that via some glorious single collaborations and duet cds,….then maybe I should have listened more closely.