tue 17/09/2019

Tony Bennett, Royal Albert Hall review - still cutting it at 92 | reviews, news & interviews

Tony Bennett, Royal Albert Hall review - still cutting it at 92

Tony Bennett, Royal Albert Hall review - still cutting it at 92

The love is indeed here to stay

Tony Bennett - immortalised in song and stone

I remember my first time in San Francisco, February 1982, crying at the sight of Golden Gate Bridge. I still shed a tear – it and the Bay are so very beautiful and the city is, like Venice, crazy-wonderful, defying all logic. It’s impossible to set foot “in the city by the Bay” without Tony Bennett’s song lodging in your brain; impossible, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, not to hear the song without picturing that magical city. It takes only a couple of notes of that celebrated and evocative piano riff...

The man who inhabits the song and sings it from every stage is 93 in just a few weeks, and still in good shape, hair seemingly his own, and remarkably he can still hold a tune and turn a phrase – his mentor Frank Sinatra (whose recorded voice somewhat eerily introduced Bennett) had lost those abilities long before he took his earthly bow, aged 82. It’s 70 years this year since Antonio Benedetto made his recording debut (on the long-forgotten Leslie Records, at 78 rpm). In 1950, he was signed up by Columbia, the big boss Mitch Miller, a Col Sanders lookalike, having seen him open for Pearl Bailey at a gig in Greenwich Village. The Tony Bennett legend was born.

His first hit, “Because of You”, spent 10 weeks atop the US charts and while he struggled in the 1960s and ‘70s, when rock conquered all, and slid into depression and drugs, his career over the last 30 years has been nothing short of remarkable. Bennett’s reinvention was masterminded by his son Danny, who felt there was a young audience for his father’s music if only he could reach it. New records, popular TV shows and a return to the Great American Songbook at much the same time as Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart were exploring, it all helped get Bennett's career back on track. And of course there was Glastonbury ’98, every song about the weather, when Bennett lifted the spirits of the sodden crowd. While the audience was mostly over 60, quite a number looked like they might have been at Glasto, or perhaps had grown up with him.

At the first of two dates at the Royal Albert Hall, where Bennett has sung 20 times, the singer was in good form, standing for some 80 minutes, sometimes leaning on the Steinway, and singing without any apparent lyric prompts. The trademark phrasing is still intact, the sforzandos and the pianissimos, but the notes are no longer quite so secure, at the top of his range and occasionally at the bottom – though his voice warmed up after the first couple of numbers and the bent notes of jazz anyway help mask the mishaps.The emphatic jabbing notes on “For Once in My Life” sounded fine, though the final sustained note wobbled. But he performed with style, enthusiasm and a touch of swagger, circling in and around the players of his accompanying quartet – Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass, Harold Jones on drums and Tom Ranier on piano. Clearly, he loves it still and the audience loves him back.

Bennett offered a catalogue of hits drawn from the classics, opening with “They All Laughed” and closing with “Fly Me To the Moon”. In between came such favourites as “Our Love is Here to Stay”, “I’m Old-Fashioned”, “But Beautiful”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “I Got Rhythm” and “One for My Baby”. “(I Left My Heart In) San Francisco” was the penultimate number and, not for the first time, the audience was on its feet. Bennett bumped fists with a few fans close to the stage, crossed his hands over his chest in thanks and supplication and said, not for the first time, “We play all over the world and we don't remember a night like this!”

Perhaps karma helps explain his longevity, for Bennett is one of life’s good guys: in the 1960s he was an active supporter of the civil rights movement, marching with Dr Martin Luther King, and among other causes, founded Exploring the Arts, dedicated to creating and supporting arts education, and turning out for Democratic fundraisers.

“I am only a timeless artist because I have always stayed true to myself and the songs I sing are timeless. Just like one of my favourite tunes, ‘I'm Old-fashioned’," Bennett has said, though no one could claim he hasn’t moved with the times, performing with everyone from Count Basie to Amy Winehouse, whom he much admired, and Lady Gaga. His most recent record, a celebration of George Gershwin, was recorded with Diana Krall. Stevie Wonder is on his wish list.

Ah yes, “San Francisco”. Who hasn’t left at least a little piece of their heart there! Mr B thoroughly deserves the eight-foot statue outside the city’s Fairmont Hotel where, in 1961, he first sang the song in its Venetian Room.

Liz Thomson's website

Comments

An excellent and memorable performance from a true musical legend, a pleasure and honor to have been there last night!

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.