Appellate Judge James A. Stewart expects to be ecstatic if he's in as good a shape at 60 as Tony Bennett is at 81.
"The audience are the best teachers you'll ever have. They'll tell you what they like by their applause."—Tony Bennett
"Only do great songs," Tony Bennett recalls being told early in his career.
To Bennett (changed—by Bob Hope—from Anthony Dominick Benedetto), that means relying on "The Great American Songbook"—classic songs from the likes of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington.
"It goes past demographics, because when I start singing a Gershwin song like 'You Can't Take That Away From Me,' they start singing it with me. The audience knows it, internationally," Bennett says.
Bennett came home from World War II to a gig in Pearl Bailey's show, followed by a tour with Bob Hope. He turned "Cold, Cold Heart" by country star Hank Williams into a pop number and rode the metaphorical cable car to stardom—and Carnegie Hall—with "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Bennett's career—and his bank account—hit bottom in the 1970s, but he bounced back stronger than ever.
His 2006 album, Duets: An American Classic, put him in the company of Bono, k.d. lang, Paul McCartney, Tim McGraw, Sting, Barbara Streisand, and Diana Krall, to name a few famous names who count themselves among his fans.
Also among his fans is Clint Eastwood, who produced—and conducted interviews for—Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends. "You're the greatest pop singer of all time as far as I'm concerned," Eastwood tells Bennett.
The documentary opens, naturally, with examples of Tony Bennett's work—as a painter. He's been the Kentucky Derby's official artist and done commissions for the United Nations, and his work hangs in galleries, his Web site notes. Showing Bennett's less-known creative passion helps establish him as a man who has done music his way, blending Italian bel canto and jazz styles.
Throughout The Music Never Ends, you'll see Bennett perform—and see clips of legends like Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, and Frank Sinatra. These clips show what else was going on with standards as Bennett carved out his musical career, hint at his influences, and illustrate how Bennett put his own spin on famous tunes. The best bit shows what was probably his largest leap—"Cold, Cold Heart"—as both Bennett and Williams belt it out.
A lot of the clips are modern, with quite a few taken from his Monterey Jazz Festival performance. However, The Music Never Ends draws on everything available—a BBC performance with the Count Basie Orchestra, interviews with Johnny Carson, and TV guest spots with Danny Thomas and Doris Day, to name but a few—to show the evolution of his style.
In addition to Eastwood, you'll hear from Count Basie, Gay Talese, and Alec Baldwin, among others. When Basie tells of his admiration of Bennett's participation in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, his words bring alive Bennett as a man as well as a musician.
The picture quality's sharp for the modern bits, and reasonably good for the older clips as well. The sound's strong as well.
A bonus feature, "At the Piano with Clint and Tony," lets the interviewer and the musician open up in an informal exchange on live audiences, musical influences, and Bennett's daughter Antonia, who's also a jazz singer.
The big bonus, however, is Bennett's concert from the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 17, 2005. You can hear the crowd cheering when they hear the first strains of favorites like "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Clearly, Bennett was getting a refresher course in what the audience likes.
The dramatic undercurrent Bennett puts into "The Good Life" could make it another Bennett signature tune, if it isn't already. Bennett's energy and glee shine especially in uptempo renderings of "Sing You Sinners," "Old Devil Moon," and "Who Cares." With a couple of Duke Ellington numbers, Bennett pays tribute to a musical great and showcases his musicians at the same time. The 46-minute concert doesn't hit any sour notes and leaves you wanting more.
There's a hint of flaring—Clint Eastwood pushed his luck on the visual quality by wearing a red jacket against a red curtain as he introduced Bennett—but the picture's mostly clear and sharp, despite the obvious lighting limitations of a live stage performance.
"The way you're treating me tonight, if I get lucky enough, I'd love to sing for another sixty years," Bennett says at one point in the concert. I, for one, believed him.
Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends, an entry in PBS's American Masters series, is a well-researched, uptempo look at the singer. You may be a little surprised at seeing Eastwood acting like a fanboy, but his documentary isn't guilty.
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