Tony Bennett keeps the music playing
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” has become a jazz standard for having been featured in countless TV and radio commercials, films and other media over the past 57 years.
Perhaps because the signature song of American jazz singer Tony Bennett has such an extensive history, many will be surprised to learn that, at age 85, the legendary artist still remains active in the music scene.
What’s more, the tender-voiced singer has recently released an attention-grabbing album, “Duets II,” with a handful of talented young musicians.
His list of collaborators includes singers with a wide range of styles, from Lady Gaga to John Mayer, Norah Jones, Josh Groban and even the late Amy Winehouse, to name a few. With Winehouse, Bennett recorded the enchanting “Body and Soul” in London only four months before her sudden death.
Instead of using modern technology to record new versions of his songs - a method Natalie Cole adopted in 1991 to add her voice to a recording of her father’s 1961 rendition of “Unforgettable” - the singer once named by Frank Sinatra as “the finest singer in America” sang live in the studio with his respective partners.
The album comes five years after Bennett released his initial Grammy-winnng “Duets: An American Classic” album, in which Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney participated. (And on which “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” also appears.)
On Sept. 19, the energetic crooner threw a star-studded concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York to celebrate his 85th birthday (his actual birthday is Aug. 3), telling the audience: “I’ve been singing 50 years - I will be honest, 60 years - and I love it.”
He reiterated that thought in a recent e-mail interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily, saying, “I’m 85 and I’m singing as well now as I did when I was 18. I’m in great health, I sing with the same energy, and many reviewers say that it’s better now than before.” The following are excerpts from the interview.
Q. How did you spend your 85th birthday?
A. It was the one day I went with my wife privately. We didn’t have a party or anything like that, but we just loved it. It was a beautiful day because my son, who has been my manager for many years, was telling me good news about doing big TV specials and how my records were selling - more than any other artist on Sony Columbia.
You’ve released over 70 albums in your lifetime. Could you name some of the albums that are you are particularly proud of and tell us why you feel that way?
I never wanted a hit record. I wanted a hit catalogue - a whole career. From 1950 to now, I’ve had 74 albums. And there is not one song that disappoints me. It was recorded by the best musicians, the finest orchestras, the best sounds. There is not one record that sounds dated, nor would I say, “I shouldn’t have really recorded that song.” They are all very well-written songs that will always sound good. Not only now, but 20 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, the music will never sound old-fashioned.
Are there any young musicians whose careers you’ve taken an interest in? If so, who?
One very unusual one that was very special was Aretha Franklin. We did “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” - a song written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It was a beautiful performance by her. I was very impressed with Queen Latifah, who sang “Who Can I Turn To” and did a beautiful job on the recording.
You said in an interview last year, “In the 1920s and ’30s, there was a renaissance in music that was the equivalent of the artistic Renaissance.” Does that mean you are not really content with the music composed today?
Between the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, we had the greatest popular songs that were loved by the whole world, not just the United States. They gave the world’s great songs that were introduced in movies, and those from Broadway - with Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Owen and the great Jonny Mercer. These are the songs that will never die. They don’t become old, they never become dated and always sound good. And whatever country I go to in the world, they know all those songs. We contributed to the rest of the world with these beautiful popular songs.
You still seem very energetic. Are there specific things you do to remain fit?
Yes. I play tennis. I also exercise three times a week. I stay in very good health.
What made you decide to become an artist?
I came from an Italian-American family. When I was a little boy, I entertained my relatives every Sunday when they came over to my mother’s. And my brother and sister and myself would entertain them. My parents would say, “Look at how they sing.” They also liked the way I painted, because I paint, too.
I remember at a very early age saying, “This is who I am. They say that I sing well, and I perform well, so I’ll do that for the rest of my life.” So that created a passion for me to sing and paint for the rest of my life. Luckily, at 85 a lot of people say that I’m still learning and growing even more. In fact, now I’m learning sculpture.
Do you have any plans for an Asia tour, or specifically for a tour to Korea?
I would love to someday. But there aren’t any plans right now.
By Seo Ji-eun [email@example.com]