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If the good life is "a life abounding in material comforts and luxuries," then yes, Tony Bennett, with his Central Park South aerie and world tours, most certainly has lived it — and is living it still. If the good life is "a life marked by a high standard of living," then yes, Bennett has that too. Not because the wealth undoubtedly brought about by moving more than 50 million units, but because of the high standards he's always applied to his lifelong devotion to song.
But what stands out most about Bennett is the bearing with which he's carried himself during nearly 60 years in the music business. It's a bearing that's at once regal and elegant, mannered and sublime: the bearing of a legend.
The facts of his life are practically fable. Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in 1926 and raised on the streets of Astoria, New York, Bennett got his big shot after Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in New York's Greenwich Village. One night, Bob Hope was in the house, and Old Ski Nose invited Bennett on the road. Bennett was still "Joe Bari" then. But Hope suggested he'd do better abbreviating his own name.
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So he did, and the rest is history. The first hit song ("Because of You") came in 1951; it sold a million copies and stayed atop the charts for ten weeks. The next year came a reprise, only this time he did it with Hank Williams's "Cold, Cold Heart." In '53, Bennett did it again with "Rags to Riches." And he's been doing it ever since, with songs such as "The Best Is Yet to Come," "I've Got the World on a String," and, yes, "The Good Life." Along the way, there also was "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and that became his sort of signature.
Beyond those songs, though, there were the jazz collaborations, with cats as with-it as Nat Adderley, Herbie Mann, Art Blakey, and Chico Hamilton. Bennett's '70s sides with pianist Bill Evans have made every "best" list ever assembled. Then there was the pairing with the Count Basie Orchestra, which began in '58 and last year earned Bennett another Grammy nomination. If he wins, it'll be his 16th.
It wasn't always all days of wine and roses, though. Despite the teaming with Evans and the birth of two daughters, Bennett bottomed out in the '70s. Not until his son Danny took over the business side did Bennett turn his career around. And since The Art of Excellence in 1986, he's been back on top.
This Friday night, the legendary saloon singer will croon at the Arsht Center. To say his appearance is highly anticipated would be an unfathomable understatement. This is the real deal, Jack. And to miss it might be considered akin to missing life itself. New Times slipped the sterling singer seven questions over the holidays. Here's what he slipped back.
New Times: You've been backed by everyone from Count Basie to Art Blakey. Please forgive an almost impossible question, but was there one musician you worked with over the years whose collaboration stands out above the rest?
Tony Bennett: In terms of my recording career, one of the true highlights was working with the late Bill Evans. He was pure genius, and we made two albums together that the critics always put at the top of their list and definitely are favorites of mine.
How instrumental would you say your son Danny has been in keeping your career ever blossoming?
It's hard to believe it's almost two decades ago now, but I remember telling Dan that I thought the videos on MTV were very clever and I liked how they were turning each song into a mini movie. The next thing I know, Dan tells me MTV wanted to work with me and we did the Unplugged CD that won an "Album of the Year" Grammy. He is a brilliant businessman, and he was always careful to make sure I did not have to change my style and the songs I wanted to perform. It was all about just using new ways to reach a different audience.
You've appeared as a performer in countless motion pictures, but you haven't acted in one since The Oscar in 1966. Is there a role that could persuade you to act again? What about if someone brought back 77 Sunset Strip?
I was fortunate enough to get to know Cary Grant in his later years, and I asked his advice once if I should move more towards film, and he told me to absolutely avoid it. He said the best thing is to work live — which is what I do all the time — and that making movies can be very boring as you have to wait hours until they figure out a light bulb. So I happily perform live all around the world, and that's what I love, and every once in a while I might do a cameo scene in a film.