[Dixielandjazz] "Tony Bennett: An American Classic"

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 21 09:02:14 PST 2006

If you like tuneful music, it might be a good idea to tune in to this
special tonight. On NBC TV at 8 PM till 9 PM here in the Eastern USA. Check
you listings elsewhere. It is an 80th Birthday celebration and includes duet
appearances by Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, Chris Botti, Barbra Streisand,
Christine Aguilera, Elton John and k.d. Lang.

Note that his latest CD, released on August 3 (his birthday) has sold over 1
million copies to date. Not bad for an old gaffer, in a CD market which all
the talking heads say is dead.

Note also the last paragraph below. :-) VBG.

Steve Barbone

In the Spotlight, a Lifetime of Song

NY TIMES - By STEPHEN HOLDEN - November 21, 2006

In the semidarkness of a cavernous old theater, a spotlight settles on the
solitary figure of Tony Bennett on the stage singing ³Smile,² the wistful
ballad from the Charlie Chaplin film ³Modern Times.² Out of the shadows a
second figure emerges. Slowly strolling toward him, recognizable by her
voice even before the light hits her face, Barbra Streisand materializes.

This tableau of noir nostalgia is the moody opening number of ³Tony Bennett:
An American Classic,² a one-hour all-star variety special that will be shown
tonight on NBC. Directed by Rob Marshall, who was nominated for an Oscar for
³Chicago,² the show is an ambitious attempt to resuscitate the variety-show
format that entranced the director when he was a boy growing up in Wisconsin
and used to watch the old Judy Garland and Perry Como shows.

Like the movie ³Chicago,² this impressionistic career retrospective is
filled with sinuous, post-Bob-Fosse-style choreography (by Mr. Marshall and
his collaborator John DeLuca), which lends a kinetic kick to the heady
show-business atmosphere. The flashiest sequences are set in an imaginary
Las Vegas lounge in which Mr. Bennett and various singing partners are
surrounded by swirling dancers.

Performing ³Just in Time,² with Michael Bublé, Mr. Bennett makes like Frank
Sinatra to Mr. Buble¹s Dean Martin. During ³Rags to Riches² with Elton John,
the singers are smothered in pink-feathered fans waved by leggy showgirls.

The show¹s musical high point may be Mr. Bennett¹s friendly competition with
Stevie Wonder as they goad each other to take ³For Once in My Life² to
higher altitudes. The production numbers, Mr. Marshall said, were rehearsed
before the singers were brought in at the end.

³Tony Bennett: An American Classic² was taped at the Los Angeles Theater, a
grand old movie palace built in 1931 but seldom used nowadays. On its stage
Mr. Marshall and his team built more than half a dozen sets evoking
different sites in the singer¹s career. Billy Crystal, Bruce Willis,
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Robert De Niro sketch Mr. Bennett¹s musical odyssey
from the jazz clubs of 52nd Street to Carnegie Hall (where Mr. Bennett
reignited his stalled his career in 1962 with a marathon concert) to MTV.

The special is the latest salvo in the multimedia blitz surrounding Mr.
Bennett¹s 80th birthday, orchestrated by Mr. Bennett¹s son, Danny. It began
in September ‹ Mr. Bennett¹s 80th birthday was Aug. 3 ‹ when Columbia
Records released ³Tony Bennett: Duets/An American Classic,² an all-star
collection of his hits done as duets with everyone from the Dixie Chicks
(³Lullaby of Broadway²) to Bono (³I Wanna Be Around²). To date it has sold
more than a million copies.

Unlike its prototype, ³Frank Sinatra/Duets,² in which the Chairman of the
Board reprised his hits with some of the same singers who joined Mr.
Bennett, these duets were all recorded with both performers in the same
studio at the same time.

For the television special, filmed over seven weeks beginning in March, Mr.
Bennett teamed with many of his vocal partners from the album to sing new
versions. In addition to Mr. John, Mr. Bublé and Mr. Wonder, they include
Diana Krall (³The Best Is Yet to Come²); the Colombian singer Juanes (³The
Shadow of Your Smile²); John Legend (³Sing You Sinners²); K. D. Lang
(³Because of You²), whom Mr. Bennett likens to Ms. Garland; and the jazz
pianist Bill Charlap (³I Left My Heart in San Francisco²). Bono, Billy Joel
and Sting are among the stars who couldn¹t appear in the special because
they were on tour.

The only singer not on the album who appears in the show is Christina
Aguilera (³Steppin¹ Out With My Baby²), whom Mr. Bennett compares to Ethel
Merman and Ginger Rogers.

In the intensity of its show business ambience, ³An American Classic² is
similar to ³Chicago.² But Mr. Marshall pointed out that where ³Chicago²
evoked a 1920s atmosphere, the special aims for a 1940s feel. Although it
was shot in high-definition video, he approached the project as if it were a
film, and the production numbers were completed in many takes.

³Tony can¹t lip-sync and never sings anything the same way twice, so it had
to be done live,² Mr. Marshall emphasized.

No one could be more amazed at his late resurgence than Mr. Bennett, who has
left it to his son to reconstruct his legend by organizing these all-star
projects. (For the duets album, each singer was given four songs from which
to choose one.) 

Like many pop singers of his generation, Mr. Bennett remembers when the
ascendance of rock rudely ousted them from the limelight.

³Everybody my age can¹t help but have an attitude about how much better it
was in the old days,² he said in an interview at his apartment overlooking
Central Park. ³What I¹ve learned from this is the professionalism of the
people more than 10 years younger than I am. They knocked out any attitude I
might have had.² 

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