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TT 287: Five Cameos from Tony Bennett
RIP Anthony Dominick Benedetto
I’m not a deep Bennett listener: I commend you to Mark Stryker’s knowledgeable thread. From me, just a few odds and ends:
Bringing a comic movie to a graceful close is notoriously difficult. One solution is song and dance, like the final scene of Analyze This, where Billy Crystal and Lisa Kudrow fox-trot at home to Tony Bennett in person. Just fabulous. (Always a good egg, Bennett notes that “I’ve Got the World on a String” was written by Harold Arlen, a detail that surely was not in the script.)
Bennett’s early hit rendition of “Rags to Riches” with Percy Faith is a key part of the opening scene of Goodfellas. After seeing the movie in the theatre during first release, I bought the soundtrack CD specifically to hear that song again.
Some of the best later Bill Evans was duo with Tony Bennett. There’s even video, a well-made half hour of classy TV with a vaguely modernist stage set. Incredible.
Dave Frishberg wrote of Jimmy Rowles, “For my money, nobody touches him when it comes to playing behind singers. His imagination is outrageous, and his taste is flawless — a perfect model for artistic playing.”
A good place to hear that outrageous Rowles imagination is on Tony Bennett’s “The Shadow of Your Smile.” At 1:15 the ascending intervals in the piano are simply too much: only Jimmy Rowles would dare.
(The whole Bennett LP The Movie Songs Album is recommended for a certain ‘60s thing, a lush wall of added-note harmony at drag tempo. Johnny Mandel is the music director.)
In the late 1990s I got on a list of NYC rehearsal pianists who could read sheet music fluently. Composer/arranger Jorge Calandrelli was in charge of several CBS projects, including one of Peter Gelb’s Christmas in Vienna galas. I didn’t play with Placido Domingo or Charlotte Church, but I was there in the 54th street complex (same building as the TV show Sessions at West 54th) for Calandrelli’s rehearsals with Vanessa Williams and Tony Bennett.
Bennett was easy going, basically, although at one point he started to get upset, for Bennett misunderstood the process of singing with a dub of the Count Basie orchestra. Apparently Bennett had thought the band was gonna be there in person, and kept declaring, “I don’t understand!” louder and louder. It was truly a tense moment; I was reminded of Joe Pesci working himself into a rage in Goodfellas.
Calandrelli talked Bennett down — “Tony, you singing with the Count is like Natalie Cole singing ‘Unforgettable’ with her father” — and everything proceeded normally.
Ralph Sharon was Bennett’s longtime pianist and a great musician in his own right. I didn’t expect to play myself with Sharon sitting right there in the corner, but Sharon stayed quiet. When it came time to run Calandrelli’s changes on “White Christmas,” Sharon gave me a nod. Bennett came over and leaned over my shoulder to look at the words on the piano desk. That impossibly gorgeous and velvety voice was literally next to my left eardrum as we went through the tune.
Afterwards I looked up at him, rendered essentially speechless. All stars of that magnitude are well aware of their power. Bennett —graceful, olympian Tony Bennett — smiled knowingly. He gave me that gift with a twinkle in his eye. It was just a chorus of “White Christmas” in a rehearsal room, but for me that was truly a great chorus of “White Christmas!”
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