July 21, 2023


Tony Bennett/Bill Charlap: Look for the Silver Lining

Tony Bennett is 89 years old, and he's seemingly been around forever.  No matter how old (or young) you are, you know who Tony Bennett is.  

As a boy singer in the 50's, his pop hits (and those of his frequent collaborator Rosemary Clooney) put Columbia Records at the top of the music business.  He expanded into jazz (recording wonderful albums with Count Basie, and, later, with the pianist Bill Evans), but retained his place in the pop world and in 1962 he recorded his most enduring hit, the iconic "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  Like many artists born a bit too late for the Swing Era and a bit too soon for rock, his career struggled in the late 60's and 1970's, as his forays into rock/contemporary music didn't ring true for a singer so rooted in the Great American Songbook.  In the 1980's, he returned to his roots: dressed a suit-and-tie or tux, backed by a piano trio or big band, and performing the music of the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and the rest.  And what a return it's been - an unprecedented second act that has been going on for almost 35 years, during which he has released some of his greatest recordings,  brought the Songbook to (at least) 2 new generations (with everything from his MTV Unplugged appearances to duet recordings with everyone from kd lang, to Amy Winehouse to Latin stars such as Gloria Estefan and Vicente Fernandez), and become ever-present in pop culture (appearing on The Simpsons, singing at World Series games, being imitated by Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, and starring in a new Barnes and Noble commercial with his recording and touring pal Lady Gaga). 

But I'm not writing this post about Tony Bennett's new album because he's 89 or because of his wonderful career in music.  I'm writing about him because the man remains a truly great singer.  His remarkable tenor voice combines operatic power and emotion, with the pop and sizzle of a big band brass section and the sensitivity of a crooner.  This album puts that wonderful voice in a perfect setting, the songs of Jerome Kern (who pretty much invented the modern concept of the musical play with Showboat) and backing by pianist Bill Charlap and his long-time regular bandmates Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums).

The album contains many of the Kern tunes that have become jazz standards ("All the Things You Are," "The Song is You," "Yesterdays," "Long Ago and Faraway," "Dearly Beloved," "I'm Old Fashioned" and "The Way You Look Tonight") along with some lesser-known songs.  To all of these Bennett brings an unmatched emotional range which turns each song into a miniature story and his easy-going sense of time and swing (I particularly like the swinging, jazz waltz arrangement of "I Won't Dance").  Although there are Kern songs I like better than "Pick Yourself Up," Tony's version (video above) is my favorite song on the album.  Not only does it swing and contain a tasty double-time solo from Charlap, but it captures Bennett's inherent warm spirit and optimism.  Sinatra could plumb the depths of longing and melancholy in his songs; even when Tony Bennett sings of love lost or, in the case of "Pick Yourself Up," of men who had to fall to rise again, you understand that this is a man who always looks for (and finds) the silver lining.


(originally posted 11/22/15)

Posted by at July 21, 2023 10:32 AM