The Art of Tony Bennett

27 07 2013

800px-Tony_Bennett_in_2003I grew up in the Seventies, a child of the period which gave birth to classic rock.  A lover of music, I became a musician in 1976, taking up the guitar.  My heroes were the big acts of the day—Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and more.

My musical palette grew as I was exposed to some of the favorites of my parents—Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, Peter Paul & Mary, and Barbra Streisand.  When my late stepfather, a Jewish man from the South Bronx—of blessed memory, came into our lives, my love of music deepened even more, adding some of his favorites—Frank Sinatra, the great Broadway musicals and the many artists from the period of the Great American Songbook.

And Tony Bennett.

I had the opportunity to take my stepfather to see Tony Bennett in 1999.  Tony and his band—the Ralph Sharon Trio were at a popular concert venue about twenty minutes from his home in lower Michigan.  My stepfather had multiple sclerosis, so I drove him and wheeled him around to see this artist whom he loved so much.  And I had grown to love and appreciate him as well.  Plus, I really enjoy the piano playing of Ralph Sharon. So it was a special evening indeed.

Tony Bennett, who Sinatra called his favorite singer, has always loved the classic popular music songwriters.  People like Johnny Mercer, George & Ira Gershwin, Gus Kahn, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter.  Their work is timeless and the songs fabulous.  These treasures are regularly given new life by people as diverse as Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, and Michael Bublé.

What is remarkable about Tony Bennett is his uncompromising attitude towards his music.  “I won’t sing a bad song,” he has said.  That resolve was tested in the Seventies and Eighties when rock and disco were all the rage.  His career went into something of a decline.  He was urged by the record companies to “go with the flow” of current popular music trends.  Compromise.  Give in a little bit; times have changed.

Tony would have none of it.  He believed in the songs he sang and the era in which they were birthed.  He has always been a class act—gracious to his audience and bands, performing always in a suit and looking fantastic.  And always singing his best.  Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, he was trained in the Italian musical art of bel canto.  These songs, his commitment to excellence and beauty, are all part of his trademark.  Tony Bennett is a class act.

His resolve was rewarded and his career profoundly revived with his Grammy Award-winning recording MTV Unplugged was released in 1994.  Recorded live at the MTV studios in New York City, Tony’s uncompromising music and flair found a new and younger audience.  People young enough to be his grandchildren love his music.

You should check out Tony’s music.  MTV Unplugged is a fantastic place to start.  But beyond music appreciation, what will or won’t you compromise?  That’s part of the story of Tony Bennett.  It has commanded the respect of many for years.  Are you as committed to your core values and convictions when those things are at nadir in popularity?  Can you hold firm when the tide is against what you hold dear and believe in?

Take it from Tony—it’s worth standing for.

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