Welcome David Evanier, and Host, Eric Comstock.

All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett

Host, Eric Comstock:

I’m Eric Comstock, the New York-based jazz pianist/vocalist and Tony Bennett fan, so happy to be talking with David Evanier about his excellent new biography of Tony, ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE. What fascinates me about David’s book is how he gets inside the mind and world of a much-loved celebrity we don’t really know a lot about. Tony seems the happiest of men on stage, but David brings to life the never-ending personal and career struggles that Tony has faced.

It’s never “happily ever after” for a superstar who cares about his work and respects his audience as much as Tony Bennett does. David has peeled the onion to reveal the sometimes-charming, often-raffish world of New York showbiz, and the competitive treadmill of recording for Columbia Records, people who always gravitate toward the quick buck rather than the distinguished catalog. That Tony has succeeded, and has had the best period of his career while in his 70s and 80s, is both a miracle and a great story, which David tells wonderfully.

This is the third book David has written about an Italian-American pop vocalist, by the way. His previous books include MAKING THE WISEGUYS WEEP: THE JIMMY ROSELLI STORY and ROMAN CANDLE: THE LIFE OF BOBBY DARIN.

To begin, David, I must ask: What draws you to these Italian-American artists?

_________________________
Eric Comstock is a jazz pianist/singer and regular headliner at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel and in concerts, festivals and nightclubs across the country. He has appeared on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross and other jazz-related NPR programs, and will appear with his wife, the vocalist Barbara Fasano, at San Francisco’s RRazz Room at the Nikko Hotel on November 13 & 14. Eric’s latest CD is “Bitter/Sweet”, a collaboration with the guitarist Randy Napoleon, available at www.ericcomstock.net.

110 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Evanier, All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett”

BevW September 4th, 2011 at 1:54 pm

David, Eric, Welcome to the Lake.

Eric, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

it’s a joy to be with you ALL!

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:02 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hi Bev, I’m here!

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Greetings! what a fun holiday Book Salon, I LOVE the standards so this is a treat.

And you are right, Mr. Comstack, his renaissance is a marvel. It’s my understanding one of his sons played a big roll in this, yes?

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

david spends a great deal of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE on how tony’s son danny masterminded the renaissance. can you us give the abridged version, david?

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
In response to Elliott @ 4

Hi Elliott, both his sons, Danny and Daegal, played major roles, Danny on the business end, Daegal on the production end. This is a remarkable story in that it was a kind of role reversal: the sons came to the aid of their parent at a time Tony was going through a personal crisis and a crisis with the music scene at Columbia Records.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

as i mentioned, david, this is your third study of an italian-american vocalist, following books on jimmy roselli & bobby darin. why do you think you are drawn to these artists?

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 5

Tony asked for Danny’s help in straightening out his finances and rejuvenating his career. Tony was deeply in debt at the time. He was never really interested in the business end; he just wanted to do his art: both his music and his painting. Danny took over the business end and also suggested re-introducing Tony to the youth audience. Slowly, effectively, Danny did that, putting Tony on MTV where he was a huge success. Danny told Tony just to be himself, which, by the way is what Sinatra once told him. Sinatra said “You can only be yourself. And that is a lot.” And so Tony went on MTV and didn’t pander; he was just himself; he was authentic. And the youth audience recognized how unique and rare he was as a singer.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 6

heartwarming!

I was surprised to learn Tony had a cocaine problem, beings that he’s of my parent’s generation, but it sure did trickle down through Hollywood. (I was around in the 70s and 80s, it’s seductive.)

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

one of the great things about the book is that we learn how complicated a man tony is, though he has always presented himself as just a gifted guy who LOVES to sing & entertain us.

BevW September 4th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Eric, Have you ever met / worked with Mr. Bennett?

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

David, how much of the book is of his early life? I always find that part of the story to be so revealing and instructive.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 10

(ps: there’s a little reply button to the right under the comment)

Kelly Canfield September 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm
In response to BevW @ 11

Just beat me to that question, Bev.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 6

Eric, I’m drawn to Italian-American artists because of their individuality–they sound like no one else. Let’s take the top tier: Sinatra, Bennett, Bobby Darin, Jimmy Roselli, Jimmy Durante, Louis Prima and Dean Martin. They emanate passion above all, and joyousness, warmth, humor, and I’d say they are connected to their real feelings. Some have great voices, some do not. But they move us deeply. And, in regard to Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Durante and Bobby Darin, they were especially drawn to civil rights and other progressive causes. Sinatra was a pioneer with his film about racial equality, “The House I Live In,” which Tony saw while in the service. So these were people who looked beyond themselves to the society around them.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

i have met tony a few times, and he has always been the most gracious of men. most recently, last year, at a book event for david’s & my friend will friedwald. i would have to say that tony’s spirit is that of the ever-watchful student, whether the art be music or painting, and he is not a chatterbox. but always quietly supportive & a mensch.

Suzanne September 4th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

welcome david – what was the most surprising thing you discovered when researching this book?

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 8

Elliott, yes that’s true. Tony was known for that. It happened because of a number of factors: the decline of his kind of music, his disastrous financial problems, a difficult second marriage which moved him to Hollywood and “the good life” that he sardonically sings about, and the impact of Vietnam and the negative feelings he had about the country at that time. He was saved by his mentors, especially Duke Ellington, who gave him great moral support. Bennett saw in the Duke’s eyes love and validation. Phoebe Jacobs, the great music publicist and VP of the Louis Armstrong foundation, spoke to me in the book about how much Ellington helped Tony through those tough years.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 15

i love that, david — “looking to the society beyond them”! not to sound old-fashioned, but that seems distinctly a pre-rock POV, and certainly one that would come from folks who are not of the ruling class of the country.

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 15

I agree…and Connie Francis has a remarkable,distinctive style,also.

I’d love to see a movie in the works about Tony,and/or Connie in the near future…WHO wouldn’t??

Kelly Canfield September 4th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 15

Hi David – and another thing about those vocalists you listed? They all have a sense of timing about singing “around the beat”; a great, natural sense of rubato.

That’s one thing, to me anyways, that conveys such authenticity.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

beautifully put, kelly!

BevW September 4th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to BevW @ 23

thank you, bev. i think i’ve got it!

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to Elliott @ 9

Tony has the complexities of all artists. He is uncompromising about his art and everything is sacrificed to that art. He is very sensitive and vulnerable and insecure. It’s perhaps that insecurity that has motivated him to keep growing and improving as an artist. He is always moving on to the next challenge. I was struck in studying him about how really tough he is. Sinatra always made a point of hiding his vulnerability and sensitivity by creating a tough, macho persona (although certainly not in his music). Tony hides his toughness by playing up his sweetness and upbeat personality. Both men have a lot in common, which is perhaps why Sinatra always said that Bennett “had four sets of balls.” Tony is everything he seems and many things that are less apparent. Going back to my comment about his insecurity, he is an eternal student, watcher, learner. He esteems great artists and tends to put them above him. The result is that at 85 he remains fresh, vital, alive, in tune with his times, and deeply committed to being at the service of his music and of the community. We have to hold on to him with both hands.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Unfortunately, I’m late to the party. Suffice to say that I’ve dug Tony for a long time. He brings those standards alive…like they were written about ten minutes ago…

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

david, certainly it hasn’t been easy for any pop/jazz vocalist, esp. the males, to follow sinatra in the 20th or 21st centuries. your account of the bennett/sinatra relationship is fascinating. they were respectful — affectionate even, but also rivals (tony is eleven years younger, and had his first hits during the sinatra trough of the early ’50s).

david, what could you add about their relationship?

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to Shoto @ 26

well put, shoto. one of the secrets to keeping these old songs fresh is to revisit them every time you sing them, and this tony does. he learned it from the jazzmen he worships.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

What sort of direct input did you get from Mr. Bennett during the construction of the bio? I’m going to guess he’s a very cool dude to hang with.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 28

he learned it from the jazzmen he worships.

Any names in particular?

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Shoto @ 29

one of the best comments about david’s book, and the fact that it is unauthorized, is by the excellent critic gary giddins: “by looking closer at a great artist than the artist might have wished, it uncovers a man even MORE worthy of our admiration than we knew.”

mafr September 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Italian American pianist…. Pete Jolly?

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 28

one of the secrets to keeping these old songs fresh is to revisit them every time you sing them

It’s also true that the tunes are so well-written that they are easy to revisit and reinterpret, especially when you’ve got the kind of chops Tony Bennett has.

BearCountry September 4th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I felt that when Nat Cole passed on, Tony Bennett was then the best male singer around. I know that he would defer to Frank, but I felt that Tony had a certain naturalness that others didn’t have.

He certainly seems to stay young. I get a glimpse of him every year at the US Open tennis tournament.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Elliott @ 12

Elliott, a great deal of my book is about Tony’s early life, since there were so many formative influences at that point: the impact of the great depression, the extreme poverty of his family, the influence of his father, a sensitive person who died when Tony was nine. Tony’s father inculcated in Tony a love of humanity. He read to him from the classics of literature, he told him of his heroes, Paul Robeson and Mahatma Gandhi, he instilled in him a love for music and an understanding of the equality of all people. In fact, all of Tony’s family had the same progressive politics. In addition, there was great love and Italian spirit in that family. On Sundays the family gathered in AStoria gardens and Tony’s parents, aunts and uncles place the children in a circle and serenaded them with their mandolins and guitars, and then Tony, his brother and sister in turn serenaded the adults. Tony was especially impacted by the feeling of brotherhood that the depression years created among people, a banding together. And of course there was Tony’s deep love for his mother, who worked as a seamstress in a factory. He would wait for her at night by the subway and help carry the piecework she brought home and in the morning walked back with her to the subway. The feelings of home and love that Tony experienced as a young man would shape his entire life.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to Shoto @ 30

basie & ellington, woody herman, with whose bands tony toured extensively, and of course his many wonderful pianists: torrie zito, john bunch, tommy flanagan, bobby tucker, his current MD lee muziker, and esp. ralph sharon, who was with tony on & off for decades.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Any observations on the painting he does? I get the impression he’s been pretty serious about that for quite some time.

TobyWollin September 4th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 35

You know, David, this story about the family still maintaining their traditional Italian music is interesting because what I saw in my own father’s family (Eastern European and Jewish, came in 1905) was this insistence on being American and shedding anything that connected them with being from ‘the old country’ or not being modern and Americanized.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 35

tony’s love of humanity at its best is certainly informed by those early years. and he makes no secret ofwhat he thinks of humanity at its less exalted! he has said, on the record, “a liberal is the ONLY thing to be” and “war is the lowest form of expression.” and david goes into great detail about tony’s involvement with dr. king & the civil rights movement.

Kelly Canfield September 4th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 28

And he DOES approach them differently; per each performance type and space.

For instance “The best is yet to come”

Here’s solo – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeeX_HX0hwI

Here’s with Diana Krall – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QSW1lc7Kpw

“Reinvention” each time is not only a skill, but a innate talent in my opinoin. I mean there is so much difference between rote/trained performances and literally breathing new life into them each time.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 35

just wow.

thanks

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to Suzanne @ 17

Suzanne, I’d have to say the most surprising thing is Tony’s toughness. Tony is a pacifist and a progressive activist, and his attitudes were shaped by serving in World War Two and liberating a concentration camp. But he is no pushover. He stands up for what he believes; it’s that Calabrese toughness that his niece, Nina Chiappa, described to me. One of my astonishments was in finding out what happened with Tony at Columbia Records. The myth is that Columbia fired him. Not at all true. He fought with them to be able to keep singing great music of the American songbook; he fought against singing novelty songs like “Come Ona My House,” all that nonsense that was fostered by Mitch Miller. He fought to sing an anti-Vietnam War cantata, “The Children’s Plea for Peace” that Alec Wilder composed. Columbia refused to let him record the Wilder piece and opposed him on all the other fronts. He was completely enraged with them. Nevertheless, Columbia came back to him with a contract renewal. His manager Derek Boulton presented it to him. Tony said “Let me see it.” Boulton gave it to him. It was thick; it had the heft of a phone book. Tony tore it in half with his bare hands. Take a look at his hands on the cover of my book; they are huge and strong. The next day the business manager of Columbia, Walter Dean, not knowing what Tony had done, invited Tony and Derek Boulton to his office to consummate the signing of the contract. Tony entered the office. Dean held out his hand. Tony socked him in the jaw and knocked Dean to the floor. He said “Good day,” and walked out. That was the end of that contract. Derek Boulton remained behind to help Dean up.

AlanSF September 4th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

One of the great moments in my concert-going career was Tony’s performance at the 2004 Bridge School Benefit, the only jazz band ever to play the show (and sharing the stage with Paul McCartney). Tony’s band was stunning and Tony absolutely killed. I don’t think encores have ever been allowed at the Bridge show, but Tony got one. (In the wait before he finally re-appeared, as the noise ebbed, someone, inevitably, yelled, Free Bird!)

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to AlanSF @ 43

perhaps they meant “blackbird”, as a request for sir paul? ;)

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 40

“Reinvention” each time is not only a skill, but a innate talent in my opinoin…

No question. Knowing one’s way around the instrument is (pretty much) mandatory, but the jazz artist (in particular) brings something else (something ineffable) to the table. Fuse those two elements and you’ve got some serious artistry going on. I seem to recall that Sinatra dug Tony Bennett, too. I’d consider that high praise.

Not to change the subject but to those who knew Sinatra up close and personal, he was considered a pretty cool dude. Warm, down-to-earth, loyal, generous – the whole nine. Lots of stories of generosity that never hit the papers. It was always about being “mobbed up,” or getting in fights, or … etc.

rosalind September 4th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

i was working in concert production when the MTV generation went gaga over Tony Bennett, prompting many discussions among my co-workers as to what was behind the phenom. with the advent of MTV came the rise of singers who had never performed in front of a large audience and didn’t know how to command the stage. they’d go onstage and play to the first five rows.

with Tony, the kids got to eperience a man who knew how to put on a show playing to the very last row. also, i feel the kids were starved for melody. the rhythms of the hits of that day didn’t move you the way the classics can, especially in tony’s hands.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 42

Just…like…fuggedaboutit… (In a good way, obviously.)

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Shoto @ 45

the music business drives everyone in it nuts, to some extent, and sinatra was no exception. tony and frank are legends NOW, but for many years it’s up-and-down, up-and-down, with someone new always coming up behind you…

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 19

Eric, that’s very true. Tony was born here, but his parents were immigrants from Calabria and he was not far removed from the intense persecution that Italian-Americans experienced in America in the early years. This was true too of Eddie Cantor, who was so close to President Roosevelt and launched the March of Dimes, Jimmy Durante, son of an immigrant Italian barber, and so many other of our greatest entertainers. Tony has always stayed rooted to his origins, connected to his Italian identity, connected to the great anti-fascist humanists from Ignazio Silone to de Sica, Rossellini, Carlo Levi, Primo Levi. I was moved that Vittorio de Sica wanted to do a film about Tony in the 1970s before he died. Tony grew up in the workingclass town of Astoria Queens and surely one of his most amazing acts has been to create a marvelous school in Astoria for aspiring young students who want careers in the arts. That school, which I’ve visited, is a miracle of good taste, vibrancy, beautiful colors, an atmosphere of eager learning on the part of the students. And they all told me that Tony is a constant visitor, checking up on their grades, a father figure to them. And let’s not forget the most astonishing thing of all: Tony named the school not for himself but for his mentor, Frank Sinatra: The Frank Sinatra School for the Arts.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to rosalind @ 46

i feel the kids were (and are) starved for melody. the rhythms of the hits of that day (and this) didn’t (and don’t) move you the way the classics can…

Plenty of sonic pollution, but not much that’s good – at least not that gets airplay. There’s good music, and real, kick-ass musicians out there, but you’ve got to know where to go to get it.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

another admirable human aspect of tony is his insistence on making a positive statement. songs such as “sunny side of the street”, “keep smiling at trouble”, “people”, etc. a great civil rights-era track to look for is “georgia rose”. not just a progressive, “message” record, but magnificently sung.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 20

I believe a movie about Connie Francis is in the works. I certainly hope so, and I hope that the director continues to be Nancy Savoca, (who had planned to do it first) who made one of the most beautiful Italian-American movies about a working-class bride and groom, “True Love.” As to Tony, a movie would appear to be a natural, and as I said, Vittorio de Sica had it in mind when Tony was still a young man. Imagine how much more he has accomplished since then!

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 51

what a remarkable man

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 21

Kelly, absolutely. Tony learned especially from the jazz singers when he hung around swing street, 52nd Street, and first saw Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. His gift for improvisation, which he sees as an essential aspect of jazz, has only grown with time. Even today, and I mean this minute, you’ll probably look around in a small jazz club and spot him sitting in the audience, appreciating so many jazz artists around New York City. Everybody sees him. The other quality of all of those singers I mentioned (and I didn’t even get to some of my other favorites, Ray Charles, Etta Jones, Ernie Andrews, Bill Henderson, Judy Garland, etc.) is the quality of heart. Tony has the quality of “letting you in,” so that you feel he is your friend. It’s also the quality of intimacy that he learned from Sinatra.

rosalind September 4th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

my late boss, rock promoter Bill Graham, had an annual tradition of treating the women in the office to a night out on the town on his birthday. the first year i received an invite was to see Tony Bennett close down the Venetian Room, which was being shuttered as a showroom.

a true night to remember.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I’ll say this,I was profoundly disappointed that I couldn’t find a youTube of Tony singing “All the Things You Are” to go with the title of the book. I adore that song.

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 52

Thanks for the reply..WHO knew a movie was being made about Connie??

When I want to create a “mood” I ALWAYS go to Bennett,Sinatra, Dino.Such intimacy in their voices.

Years ago,when I lived in New Orleans, I was engaged to one of the managers of the Fairmont Hotel there. I recall watching Tony,Ella Fitzgerald,Lainie Kazan, and others doing their rehearsals in the Blue Room.

(Some years later, I attended a Thanksgiving performance there starring Joe Williams-sans ex-fiance,btw.)

Ah,quelle memories! And I relive- and revisit – many of them when listening to Bennet et al.

mzchief September 4th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to rosalind @ 46

with Tony, the kids got to eperience a man who knew how to put on a show playing to the very last row.

I have seen and experienced this and it is WOW! and not dime a dozen.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Shoto @ 26

Shoto, that’s absolutely true. Dizzy Gillespie said that Tony’s singing is “raw soulfulness.” He stops you in your tracks because he is in the moment, living the song. Jonathan Schwartz said to me that there are just a few singers who are conversation stoppers: Tony, Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Judy Garland.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to rosalind @ 55

oo what a wonderful boss to have, perhaps you will bless us with recollections at myFDL. Most every one of us would love to hear your story.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 57

she does have a dramatic story, Gitch.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 54

but, david, you would agree that tony’s brand of inimacy is much more appoachable than sinatra’s. sinatra is a more distant figure, a loner. my wife barbara fasano (another great italian-american vocalist), always says that although sinatra wears his heart on his sleeve and expresses great vulnerability, you always have the feeling that if you were to approach him to offer a hug, he’d sock you in the jaw. whereas tony would be happy to have the embrace.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 57

oo, another recollection worth sharing.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 62
Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 57

Ella was another one who knew how to work her way around a tune. I still find her interpretations stunning. Incredible skill and artistry.

Did Ella and Tony ever make a recording together? That would definitely be one for the books.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to Elliott @ 64

you, sir, are quite the press agent! mille grazie.

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Shoto @ 65

Shoto, I have been collecting Ella’s works for a coupla years now,and have many with Satchmo.

I am pretty sure she and Tony have done some albums together,if memory serves me correctly.

But I have a question,has Bennett and Jobim(when he was alive) ever done any recording together? Sinatra did and its the most romantic music EVAH!!

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 27

Eric, there had to be aspects of rivalry, of course, but mostly I found that there were genuine affection between the two. Bennett simply idolized Sinatra. He said again and again that Sinatra introduced the art of intimate singing, and that Sinatra would last forever, that he was timeless, and that this defined great art. He said that he calls his school the Sinatra school because Sinatra “was the master.” Bennett walks away from anyone who suggests that he is a better singer than Sinatra. When Sinatra called Bennett “the best singer in the business” in 1965 in Life Magazine, Bennett was stunned. Danny Bennett has written that he took it upon himself as a sacred obligation to live up to that statement. We will perhaps never know the full depth of that relationship, but Sinatra was always there for Bennett: when Tony’s mother was ill, Sinatra took it upon himself to call Bennett the best singer when he knew Tony’s mother was watching him on television. He once remarked on stage, when Tony was seated in the audience,
that Tony was seated next to Sinatra’s wife Barbara, but he was not worried about it, he could trust him, because Tony was “his brother.” Watching the one performance they did together in 1988, there was early tension in the performance, particularly on Sinatra’s part, but both men performed beautifully. At the end, someone in the audience gave Sinatra a bouquet. Sinatra plucked a flower from the bouquet, and–this was awkward to do since they were both singing and moving about the stage–Sinatra earnestly inserted the flower in Bennett’s lapel. To me this seemed like a loving gesture. I think what’s essential to understand is that for Tony, the music, the art is the thing; the artist is at the service of the art. Sinatra, to Tony, is the best, and that is most important to him to celebrate.

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 67

Bennett and Jobim

Oh yeah. That would be very good, alright. Same as for Sinatra and Jobim.

mzchief September 4th, 2011 at 3:15 pm
In response to Elliott @ 56

Here you go. There’s only audio and the song starts at time point 4:36 (audience still clapping) so you don’t miss the studio orchestra intro. Enjoy! :-)

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 68

Very eloquent.

Can you possibly speak about the painting that Bennett does?

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

david, this is SO talk-show, but i must ask: thank god you DON’T have to choose, but what would be your benedetto “desert island discs”? one individual track, and one CD.

for me, those would be, respectively, “if i ruled the world” and “the movie song album.” obviously, the two tony bennett-bill evans CDs belong on any short list also.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 66

heee!

(I heard you were charming, and – by golly – you are ;)

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Shoto @ 29

Shoto, I write unauthorized books which limit relationships with my subjects. I need to maintain that objectivity and distance no matter how much I love the person I’m writing about. Otherwise there is inevitable friction, pressure and the sacrifice of artistic standards. I write a biography the way I write my novels, allowing for nuance, complexity, contradiction, and surprise. Nothing is set in stone. I met Tony briefly at the Oak Room of the Plaza at an event in honor of Will Friedwald’s new book (and in which Eric Comstock sang). I told Tony I was his biographer and that he would be very happy with the book. He smiled and held my hand. Later, in front of the hotel, I ran into him and did not want to bother him. But he came up to me warmly and touched me and said “Take care of yourself.” My deepest wish is that he will love the book. I have not heard from him yet about it.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Shoto @ 65

oh my, my father absolutely LOVED Ella — I have all his vinyls, altho a few are a tad worn.

Kelly Canfield September 4th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 66

Wow, Barbara’s diminuendi (making a note/phrase go softer in volume over time) are just exquisite! Brava!

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 54

Did you mean to say Etta James..now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!!

(Can’t get enough of Etta-especially when she’s warbling the standards. Hubba hubba!)

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 76

thank you, kelly. i’ll blush on her behalf!

like tony, barbara adores, and is a superb interpreter of, harold arlen’s music. she has recorded an all-arlen CD called WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to mzchief @ 70

aww thank you!

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to Shoto @ 71

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Tony would do paintings that would relate and be directly inspired by some of his songs?

Wonder what “If I ruled the World” or “The Shadow of your Smile”(my favorite) would look like?

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to BearCountry @ 34

Tony plays tennis three times a week, or has done so until recently and is in good shape. He certainly is the most natural singer. I believe he loves singing more than any other singer I have ever seen. The critic Nat Hentoff has written that it is hard for a singer to stay real for a long time. Tony has certainly done that. He just loves the acclaim of the audience. Joe Williams,another great, noted that while the ovations came at him on stage, he looked like a little boy, he was so happy and eager. There really is no distance between him and his audience. He feels he is at their service, a feeling he had initially when he was a singing waiter. His responsibility is to uplift people, to inspire hope and encouragement. Then too there is the quality of his voice: that gravelly, raspy, New York street sound, full of warmth and accessibility. He was influenced by the honeyed sound of Stan Getz. But as Count Basie told him, “Sing sweet, but put a little dirt in it.”

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 78

You two make a very attractive pair..and make beautiful music together,for sure.

The Algonquin,the Sherry Netherland and the Pierre used to be my old stomping grounds a few years back,btw.while in the Big Apple.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

in addition to seeking positivity in all things (and songs), tony tries not to speak ill of anyone. but a wonderful case of him slipping came up when he was on NPR’s “fresh air” in the late 90s. terry gross, as good an interviewer as there is, asked tony to choose an early hit of his for her to play. tony chose “blue velvet”.

terry replied, “oh, that was a big song for bobby vinton, too, wasn’t it?”

tony said indignantly, “yes, but that was terribly recorded!”

terry, flabbergasted, asked, “you mean the bobby vinton record?!?”

tony said, “that’s not my opinion; that’s a fact.”

THERE’S an example of the toughness david writes about so well.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Shoto @ 37

Shoto, I go into his painting in some depth in my book. The fact is that he’s very good: his New York scenes are wonderful and his paintings of jazz musicians are outstanding. He has been a determined painter ever since he was a young boy and drew with chalk on the sidewalk and his friends would good-naturedly toss peanuts at him to try to distract him. He kept painting. Later, Duke Ellington told him to “do two things well,” to be creative all the time. He never forgets meaningful advice. His painting of Duke Ellington with 12 red roses is in the Smithsonian art museum. The origin of that painting is Ellington’s sending Tony 12 red roses every time he wrote a new song. His great painting of Louis Armstrong is still directly across from Satchmo’s desk at his home (not a museum) in Corona, Queens. Armstrong wanted it there so he could look at it every day. Asked who painted it, Armstrong would say dryly, “Just a boy in the neighborhood.” (Tony lived in Astoria, not far at all from Corona)

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 82

Gitch! we hardly know ye

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 81

“Sing sweet, but put a little dirt in it.”

That’s good.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

So David, why do you do Italian biographies?

Evanier sounds so French – but it isn’t, is it?

Shoto September 4th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 84

Just…Wow!

rosalind September 4th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to Elliott @ 60

(thx, elliott. as october 25th is the 20th (yikes) anniversary of Bill’s death, perhaps i’ll put something together for then)

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to Shoto @ 86

i think basie’s philosophy applies also in tony’s record dates. he does not edit his records overzealously. he LIKES the imperfections! they’re human.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 38

Toby, this is often true. But Tony has remained true to his roots, and part of the reason may be his very positive experiences of his own family asserting their Italian-American identity. There was no hiding in that family. He is very proud of his Italian background and celebrates it. He associates being Italian with celebration of beauty, humanity, culture, art and music–with every aspect of creativity. He is wedded to the Italian community. He is especially critical of the denigration of Italians and the stereotypes that are still pervasive. To gain a deeper understanding of Tony’s hatred of the Mafia, see my discussion of his painting,”The Underworld,” in my book. One can learn a lot about Tony from that painting.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to rosalind @ 89

that would be so wonderful, rosalind, what a tragic loss that was.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 91

for me, the biggest surprise in david’s book is an incident when tony & a friend took a car far out of new york to a bowling alley. a goat is involved. and that’s all i’m gonna say! i’ll let you find it in the book…

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 39

Tony’s commitment to the civil rights movement is total and passionate. He marched at Selma and took part in many civil rights demonstrations anonymously. It is an essential part of his character. When he was in the army, fighting the ultimate war for democracy, he invited a black buddy of his to Thanksgiving dinner in Mannheim, Germany. A sergeant spotted the two men, raged at Bennett, demoted him, stripped him of his medals, threw them on the ground, spat and stomped on them, and reassigned him to Graves Registration detail. He never forgot that experience. Nor did he forget seeing a cross burning in the South–he told his manager never to book him in the South again–and he refused to sing in apartheid South Africa. What hurt him deeply was seeing the great artists he revered like Nat King Cole and Billy Eckstine and Duke Ellington not permitted to dine or stay in the hotels where they were starring in the nightclubs, consigned to staying at crummy motels across town. And of course the ultimate result of racism and bigotry was what he saw at the concentration camp he helped to liberate in Nazi Germany. When Harry Belafonte first met Bennett and Tony talked to him of his experiences in the war, Belafonte commented that he realized there was more to this singer than he had known–much more.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 82

very kind of you, gitch! we just try to follow tony bennett’s example of sticking with the good songs.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 93

LOLOL!

book purchase assured

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 95

I always say that a good song tells a good story..and some sing the story better than others…

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 94

I was ignorant of this side of him.

Obviously your biography was unauthorized, but how has Tony reacted to it now that it’s published?

BevW September 4th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

David, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Tony Bennett.

Eric, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

David’s website and book

Eric’s website and new recordings
Eric will appear with his wife, vocalist Barbara Fasano at San Francisco’s RRazz Room at the Nikko Hotel on Nov 13-14.

Thanks all
Have a great Holiday weekend!

Next week:
Saturday – Steve Early The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor: Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of the Old?
Hosted by Joe Burns

Sunday – Stephen Glain/ State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire
Hosted by Zaid Jilani

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to rosalind @ 46

Rosalind, I think that’s a very perceptive description of why the kids love Tony. George Burns commented once that the young performers couldn’t develop the way his generation could, playing six or seven shows a day before livevaudeville audiences. Tony is a bridge between generations and his performances are really magical. He is in a sense the last man standing. Judy Garland said “He isn’t copying anyone. His sound gets into your ear and into your heart.” And yes, melody is the key.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 94

yes indeed, david, and tony’s belief in humanity extends to show business, too. tony truly feels people respond to soul,authenticity, and excellence, when it is given to them. it’s the businessmen who have the low regard for the public taste!

Gitcheegumee September 4th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to Elliott @ 96

Will buy book for Dad’s Christmas ..he’s from Brookly,NY and LUVS him some Tony Bennet and ..Ole Blue Eyes….(to whom it is rumored we are distantly related by the upstate NY side,but I have my doubts….)

THANKS to all -espcially the guest author-and Bev, for a great interlude.

Eric Comstock September 4th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 99

thank you, bev — i had a ball. congratulations, david, on a stunning achievement. and thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
In response to Eric Comstock @ 51

Eric, this is absolutely true. Tony always tries to communicate hopefulness. When he sings a song that is less positive, like “This Funny World,” he does so to speak out against intolerance, unkindness, and bigotry. But then he sings “The Way You Look Tonight,” and the audience is experiencing the the most joyous moments of life–or he sings “I Got Lost In Her Arms,” and we are in the presence of the most passionate love scenes ever captured in song.

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 99

Thank you Bev – you are the master

And thank you David and Eric

May this book be a bestseller and the inspiration for a bio-pic.
Best of luck to the both of you

*waving to the maybe-blushing Mrs. Comstock*

This was a treat, may the best be yet to come.

David Evanier September 4th, 2011 at 4:00 pm
In response to BevW @ 99

What a great experiences this has been for me, the depth of your questions!
Join FDL!

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 4:01 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 104

“The Way You Look Tonight”

another one of my all-time faves

rosalind September 4th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
In response to David Evanier @ 106

(what David said!!)

Elliott September 4th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

hmm, sorry Eric, David never did answer that Italian question, but I tried!

Phoenix Woman September 15th, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I know this is very, very late, but I just had to post this. It’s a video, just released by Tony yesterday, of a duet he did with Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul”.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post