Jazz legends visits Vancouver
// JJ Brewis

Legendary is not a term to throw around. But for long-time jazz great Tony Bennett, the word legend seems to be the only appropriate term at this point. Not only is he one of the most substantial players in his field, earning him major credits with fans and critics alike, but his sheer performance value has remained consistent for over five decades of playing, earning him the title of a true music legend. Bennett has played with and performed with all the greats, from Judy Garland, to Elton John, to Amy Winehouse.

Performing a fraction of the hundreds of songs he’s recorded over his momentous career, Bennett wowed a sold-out crowd at the Red Robinson Show Theatre during a national tour promoting his most recent album Duets II – his first Billboard number one album. The music industry may be a fickle thing, but it’s proven over the past 60 years that there has always been a place for Tony Bennett – with 70 albums, 15 Grammy awards, and countless singles under his belt, Bennett has surpassed most of his peers with effortless ease.

As soon as he emerged onstage, Bennett captivated his crowd. I must admit that in my years of seeing live music, I have never had the rush of excitement that ran through me when Tony Bennett walked out from stage right with his arms outstretched. Even before he had a chance to begin a song, the entire audience was on its feet awarding him with the first of several standing ovations of the evening. Even the elderly folk beside us who had a harder time standing up made the effort for Tony. Bennett appears unfazed by the charms of fame, however, and seemed genuinely surprised, or at least grateful, for the reaction, countlessly thanking the crowd for their gesture.

Perched in my front-row seat, I felt lucky to see the last man standing of the old greats – all Bennett’s peers have long since passed, and he’s found a second wind for himself recording with contemporaries like Michael Buble and Mariah Carey. Tony Bennett shows the endurance and uber-relevancy when he takes a classic song like the Gershwin’s “Who Cares (as Long as You Care For Me)”, and calls it a “song for right now” which talks about living carefree in love despite the state of the world (“Who cares how history rates me? Long as your kiss intoxicates me!”).

The set was a good reminder about what Tony Bennett came from: all music, no filler. Where artists nowadays depend on smoke and mirrors in all shapes and forms, Bennett is a true artist in that, aside from a few spot lightings, there is no technical side of his stage show setup. His voice and his personality stand for themselves, and the crowd was happy to have this bare-bones setup.

In between songs, Bennett would regale the theatre with stories about personalities from eras gone by, from film siren Jane Russell to soul star Stevie Wonder. Bennett introduced “How Do You Keep The Music Playing?” with a story about attending a Frank Sinatra concert and being spotted incognito in the audience before Sinatra asked him to join him onstage for the song (“When he told you to do something, man, you better do it!”).

Bennett also showed his current relevance when he dedicated his sly hit “Steppin’ Out” to Lady Gaga, with whom he sang with on Duets II. “She’s got a great voice,” he told the crowd. “What a performer!” Any time Bennett paid homage to one of his colleagues, it felt like an honest-to-god story for the sake of storytelling, not a name drop.

Bennett doesn’t have a hard time sharing the spotlight, though. Throughout the set, each of his band members performed a lengthy solo, after which Tony would shout their name with approval, and compliment them along the lines of “I told you he’s the best!” Bennett seemed nearly teary-eyed when he mentioned film star Charlie Chaplin, who wrote him a hand written letter thanking him for bringing his own song “Smile” back to popularity when Bennett re-recorded it in 1959, and then closed the show with the tune to another enduring standing ovation.

At 85, Bennett shows no signs of slowing down. When his daughter, Antonia Bennett joined him on stage for a duet of “I’ve Got Rhythm”, he didn't hesitate to join her in a choreographed dance number during the vocal break. During one of the show’s most touching moments, Bennett told the crowd that he would be celebrating a milestone in his career with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the release of his signature tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”. The song, for which Bennett won his first Grammy Award in 1963, was a huge hit with the crowd, bringing a few nostalgic tears to the eyes in the audience.

It’s an unbelievable thing to see a man of Bennett’s age still so filled with passion for his craft. His voice still soars to the highest ranges hit in songs recorded decades ago, and he smiles and claps after each of his own songs, seeming almost appreciative at the crowd’s applause as much as they are for his playing.
Bennett seems quite self-aware, though. When a fan came down the stairs mid-song to drop a note on stage, Bennett cut away from the song for just a moment, to say to his pianist, “You see that? She left you a letter.” During one of the more uptempo tracks, Bennett did a quick spin and then faked hurting his leg, poking fun at his age, which, at this point, seems to be just a number.

//JJ Brewis, art director
//Graphics by Katie So

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com