The Who’s Pete Townshend once wrote that “it’s the singer, not the song, that makes the music move along.” But Tony Bennett begs to differ.
Fifty-seven years after his first No. 1 hit “Because of You,” the legendary New York-born singer known as Frank Sinatra’s personal favorite stakes his reputation on the material he chooses rather than his voice.
“My reputation after all these years (is) I really don’t sing one song that’s a bad song,” says Bennett, 82, who was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Queens and began recording after a tenure in the U.S. Army during World War II.
“If it hasn’t got intelligent music and lyrics, I don’t sing it,” he explains. “I try not to insult the audience; I just give them the best music I can think of for them.”
And in dire economic times, Bennett — who’s added some Depression-era songs to his live repertoire these days — says he feels an even greater responsibility to that audience.
“The whole premise of what I do is to try and make people forget their problems for 95 minutes or so and just make them feel good and enjoy themselves,” he says. “It’s very gratifying to know that happens, and it makes me go to sleep comfortably at night knowing I’ve made them forget their tragic situation, at least for a minute.”
That philosophy has served Bennett well — to the tune of 15 Grammy Awards (including one for Lifetime Achievement), two Emmys, designations as an NEA Jazz master and a Kennedy Center honoree, record sales of more than 50 million worldwide and a side career in painting that includes three works hanging in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Bennett won his latest Grammy in 2007 for a version of “For Once in My Life” with Stevie Wonder, and now the two are working on what Bennett calls “a jazz album” that’s being produced by Quincy Jones and will be recorded in May for a release later this year.
“Believe it or not, Stevie is a good jazz player,” Bennett says of the project, which will include Wonder songs and jazz standards, with guest appearances by Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock. “(Wonder) and I really get along. We believe in the same things, and he is a guy that I respect very, very much.
“And fortunately he respects me just as much. We’re great friends, and we just have a good repartee with each other. It will be an easy (album) to make.”
Tony Bennett performs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (April 17-18) at Sound Board in the Motor City Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $75, $100 and $125. Call (866) 782-9633 or visit www.motorcitycasino.com.
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