He came, he crooned, he conquered. The talented Mr. Tony Bennett, all 87 years of joie de vivre about him, walked on stage smiling widely—chuckling, in fact—and with a spring in his step. He thanked his daughter Antonia, who opened for him with a six-piece set, slapped his thigh to the oncoming upbeat intro and launched into “Watch What Happens.”
He never let up.
Over 20 songs, an extended encore and three curtain calls later, he still had the Philippine International Convention Center Plenary Hall roaring with applause, spontaneous hollers of “Bravo!” and intermittent declarations of love (from unmistakably male voices).
Bennett whipped up the perfect recipe Tuesday night for his well-heeled audience: beloved ditties, nearly all of them jazzed-up by a band aflame beneath a cool-suit exterior. The singer himself was craftsmanship and charm personified.
But it seemed he sang—in that familiar velvety voice that intermittently churned out gravelly growls as well—only to tell the most fascinating and nostalgic tales.
High notes galore
He hit high notes galore as early as the third number, “Maybe This Time.” The way he told this story, no matter the low level of likelihood, it might have been his own. But renowned jazz pianist Lee Elliot Musiker laid equal claim to it via a tantalizing solo.
Actually, Musiker’s spot was a glimpse of the masterful collaboration in store for the audience. Henceforth, the instrumental interludes—whether on drums by Harold Jerome Jones (whom Bennett introduced as the late great Count Basie’s favorite), on upright bass by Marshall Stevens Wood, or on guitar by Gray Randall Sargent—would thrill the crowd nearly as much as Bennett’s vocals. On that stage, it was clear, these music men were equals, demonstrating the joy of jazz with nimble precision and a graceful give-and-take.
With his groundbreaking “Tony Bennett Duets: An American Classic” (2006), the esteemed veteran showed that he had the clout (and who else, indeed?) to seat current A-listers before a mic next to his in the studio. But he recorded his signature “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” solo. Should he do a third volume (“Duets II” was released in 2011), “But Beautiful” should definitely be on it. This shouldn’t be a duet, either.
The wistful love song, written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke and published in 1947, hushed the hall—the better, it seemed, to hear Bennett think through the lyrics and breathe the perfect sentiments into them.
“Love is funny, or it’s sad,
Or it’s quiet, or it’s mad.
It’s a good thing, or it’s bad,
But beautiful…to take a chance
And if you fall, you fall,
And I’m thinking,
I wouldn’t mind at all.”
And then he chuckled, more to himself, but it was infectious. He would do so many more times, with the same mesmerizing effect.
Every single narrative in every song, the audience knew by heart—of the girl with moonlight in her eyes, the boulevard of broken dreams, the heart left behind in San Francisco, that old black magic—and certainly loved hearing them again.
“Because of You,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Just in Time,” “The Good Life” (which he dedicated to his new “good friend” Lady Gaga), “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “For Once in My Life”…
Good feelings just kept coming. The audience engagement was total; thus, when Bennett set aside his mic for his final song, “In Other Words,” the entire hall saw it through to the end with him.
“Fill my heart with song and let me sing forever more.”
When he waved goodbye, they would not let him go. But Mr. Bennett couldn’t stay; he still had the whole world to sing to.