Tony Bennett keeps it short and to the point. He performed a stellar one hour and ten minute show at Radio City Music Hall on Friday to a totally sold out crowd. And I do mean sold out: even the rafters, all the balconies, were full. Bennett, 87, did not disappoint. He has no physical set, per se. Just his four piece jazz combo– including Harold Jones on drums and Lee Musiker on piano.
Bennett stands in the spotlight at the center of this clutch. He does not turn on the video screens hanging to the left and right. You are listening to Tony Bennett, so you better pay attention. The entire ensemble is just about dwarfed by Radio City’s enormous stage. They took up maybe a third of the length. And it didn’t matter. They filled the room.
There were a couple of celebrities who came to see Tony: Cicely Tyson, Dr. Westheimer, Patrick Stewart. Writer Gay Talese and wife Nan, publisher extraordinaire, were also in the audience. Otherwise, it was just fans. They gave Bennett a standing ovation after every song. He clapped back at them. Sometimes he danced, did a little jig or a bossa nova during an instrumental interlude. The place went crazy.
Tony dedicated a song to Lady Gaga and mentioned their duets jazz album would be out “right after the first of the year.” He dedicated “The Way You Look Tonight” to his wife, Susan. He said, “I’ve been singing for 50 years,” then added, “60 to tell the truth” and cradled his face in his hands and shook his head.
Is it possible? I go to see Tony Bennett because I love his voice and demeanor. But I also go the way people seek out magicians’ tricks. How does he do it? What’s really going on? His voice is maintained at the highest level. Raspy? A little. But he holds the melody and caresses it. If it tries to leave, he coaxes it back into something wonderful.
When he started “One for My Baby (And One for the Road)” I thought, hmmm, Sinatra. Then Tony gripped the melody the way a fisherman pulls a taut line, reeled in the fish and wrestled it to the ground. The changes he made were breathtaking and, of course, not the least bit showy. When he was done, the audience jumped to its feet. Bennett exclaimed, “That’s jazz.”
It sure was.