Tony Bennett is 93 years old and played a sold-out concert on Friday.
Feeling a little lazy about spending your night on the couch?
It isn’t only remarkable that Bennett is still vital, still singing, still playing live shows regularly at a God-bless-him age, but also that he’s still doing it so well.
At his sold-out Valentine’s Day concert at Atlanta Symphony Hall, all of the love in the room was directed toward the indefatigable Anthony Dominick Benedetto, standing on stage in his usual dark blue suit, throwing his arms open wide at the end of nearly every song and briskly rolling through an hour of standards with his superb quartet.
This is the third time since 2017 that Bennett has packed the ASO’s venue and it’s impressive that not much has changed.
One of his many nods to Gershwin – “I Got Rhythm” – was filled with frisky solos from guitarist Gray Sargent and bassist Marshall Wood, while “Solitude” spotlighted the distinct phrasing that is one of Bennett’s hallmarks (another is his unfailing gentlemanly presentation).
Nestled in his favorite spot – the crook of the piano under the guidance of musical director Tim Ray – Bennett began many songs as if they were casual conversations, speak-singing the lyrics of Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old-Fashioned” and garnering a laugh with the opening line of Gordon Jenkins’ “This is All I Ask”: “As I approach the prime of my life…”
Bennett and his quartet present a show that starts and ends with the music. Aside from an opening audio clip of Frank Sinatra proclaiming Bennett his favorite singer, there is no production. And excepting instruments and a row of lights accenting the back of the stage, the surroundings are bare.
But there is no need for excessive accoutrements with Wood’s prowling bass line powering Irving Berlin’s “Steppin’ Out” and a fervent audience clapping along and whooping at Bennett’s tiny dance step during “Love is Here to Stay.”
Bennett and Ray have also crafted a well-paced set list, one that can sway from a quiet duet between Bennett and Sargent’s jazz guitar on “The Way You Look Tonight” to Wood’s deep bass conveying the sad desperation in Al Durbin’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to the cheerier “The Good Life,” during which Bennett patted the piano with his right hand in rhythm with the song.
Throughout the show, Bennett smashed several big notes, most impressively to cap “The Way You Look Tonight,” which prompted a houselights-up ovation and a genuine reaction from Bennett.
“Thanks for being so good to us tonight,” he said.
Drummer Harold Jones stayed busy with taut cymbal work and intermittent jazz brushes on his snare, but also ably accelerated the pace for the bossa nova “The Shadow of Your Smile” and a late-night-cabaret version of “One for My Baby (And One More For the Road,” the Johnny Mercer gem that didn’t shudder with the melancholy of Sinatra or Streisand, but was presented with a more celebratory air that included Bennett holding up a shot glass as a toast.
Bennett has transcended generations, earned 18 Grammy Awards and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, been christened as a Kennedy Center Honoree and sold more than 50 million albums.
He’s even shared a bill with daughter Antonia, as he did again on Friday when she opened the show with a pleasant 15-minute set of standards.
But despite his standing as a singing icon and musical treasure, it is apparent that Bennett’s happiest moments take place whenever his feet hit a stage.
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