Last Night: Tony Bennett At Jones Hall
Tuesday night was the 60th anniversary of Tony Bennett recording what would become first No. 1 single, a little tune called "Because of You." After hearing the 85-year-old singer perform with his quartet at Jones Hall, sharing the bill with the Houston Symphony, it's easy to believe he might still have a couple more chart toppers in him.
In the late 1940s, Bennett came in second in a talent contest; Rosemary Clooney beat him out - "We were the first American Idols," Bennett jokes.
Pearl Bailey happened to see his performance and invited him to join her show. Bob Hope dropped in to see Pearl Bailey and caught Bennett onstage. After the show, Bob Hope asked the young singer his name.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto, answered Tony. "That's a little too long for the marquee. Why don't you try Tony Bennett?" Hope said, and promptly took Bennett on tour with him.
It was a wonderland beginning to a career that is still going strong.
True, at first listen, he seemed not to be as strong-voiced as he once was, and yes, his dance moves were slightly stiff, but there's no denying Bennett's still got his pipes. He's just as smooth as he ever was, his singing is fluid and filled with nuances and dynamics. His timing is perfect; Bennett can find beats where other singers only hear silences.
And about three songs into the set Tuesday at Jones Hall, we realized his voice is just as strong as it needs to be. He performed with a tender touch that somehow made even the sad songs seem sweet.
His set list included "Maybe this Time," "I've got Rhythm," "Steppin' Out with My Baby," "For Once in My Life," "The Way You Look Tonight," "I Wanna Be Around," and of course, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Ripples of appreciation and applause went through the crowd as they recognized each tune.
He was backed by a tight quartet that had Lee Musiker on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Harold Jones on drums, whom Bennett introduced as Count Basie's favorite drummer.
Bennett scattered a few more stories about the famous people he worked with throughout the show. Early in Bennett's recording career, Mitch Miller, who signed him to Columbia Records some 60 years ago (Bennett is still with the label), was having trouble getting the crooner to record a country tune.
"He told me, 'If I have to tie you to a tree, you're going to record that song.' Eventually, I did and it became the first country tune to sell a million records internationally." Bennett says proudly.