TONY BENNETT-AGE 95+

Tony Bennett – Age 95 +

On his 95 birthday, Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga performed at Rockefeller Center. They did another show the next day. The advanced billing proclaimed it was the last time Bennett would ever perform. His son/manager, Danny Bennett announced that because of age frailty his father official retired.He did not mention that his father was afflicted with Alzheimers.

A month later Tony cut an album, Love For Sale, with his costar Lady Gaga.

Singing was an important part of his life even as a youngster. At the age of 10, standing next to Mayor La Guardia, Anthony Dominick Benedetto sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in New York City. Even though he had to drop out of school to help support his family, he continued to try and advance his singing career by working as a singing waiter and going to amateur singing contests, landing a small gig at a club in Paramos, New Jersey, under the stage name Joe Beri.. And all the while trying to earn a decent wage in Hoover’s Depression, a impossible task that made him an outspoken Democrat from then on.

When he tuned 18 he was drafted. The War in Europe was nearing the end. The Battle of the Bulge had reduced the German Army to slow combative retreat. The Allies were pushing the Germans back to their Father Land but at a heavy cost on both sides.

In March of 45, Benedetto was sent to the front in the 255th Infantry Regiment which had suffered enormous casualties in the Bulge and continued as it led the assault to push back the Germans to their homeland and hopefully their surrender. As Tony described the fighting as a ‘front row seat in hell’. House to house, hedgerow to hedgerow. Wondering if the next dawn would be his last. Somehow he escaped death and physical damage. But the insanity caused Benedetto to be an outspoken pacifist from then on.

He took part in the liberation of a German concentration camp which held a number of American POW’s. This event only increased his hatred of War.

After VE Day he was assigned to Special Services as a singer. But that plum duty was short lived.

He was seen dining with a soldier, a friend from high school, a black soldier. Demoted for this US Military ‘crime’, he was transferred to a desk in Grave Registrations. Funny, while he couldn’t dine with a black soldier, he could work on registering the proper graves of the dead soldiers, irregardless of their color, religion, or any other difference. This punishment did nothing to change his acceptance of people.

Nor did he take a hiatus from his goal of being a professional singer. He found he could entertain in the military by using his old stage name, Joe Beri.

His discharge brought Tony a chance to advance his singing via the GI Bill. He enrolled in the American Theater Wing, a school more dedicated to the theater arts rather than the teaching of music, especially pop music. He was taught in the bel canto method, a 19th Century Italian Operatic school of preserving one’s natural voice and respecting both the melody and lyrics.

He adopted the style of certain musicians, like Stan Getz and Art Tatum. And he followed Frank Sinatra’s respect for the lyrics of the song, No crooning like Bing Crosby but crisp and precise pronunciation of each and every word.

There were several recordings done in a small studio under the Joe Beri name, but none took off. Pearl Bailey hired Tony to open her show in Greenwich Village where Bob Hope saw him and hired him to go on tour. Hope told Tony Benedetto to shorten his name to Tony Bennett. After sending a demo to Columbia he was signed by Mitch Miller to help fill the void of Sinatra who had just left Columbia.

The first Columbia recording for Bennett was a cover of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, accompanied by the Marty Manning Orchestra and it had a modest success, which prompted Miller to have Bennett work with Percy Faith.

Faith, the originator of ‘easy listening’ put a lush arraignment to Bennett’s singing Because of You, a song from the movie I Was An American Spy. Ten weeks #1, way over a million record seller. Tony Bennett made the big time. With the song still on the charts, Tony did something he would be known for his whole career, he introduced himself to a brand new audience..

Hank Williams was the hottest C&W artist of the time, one of the best of all time. Williams had a big C&W hit of hisCold Cold Heart and recognizing the greatness of the song, Tony Bennett cut a recording of it. It helped both men because it introduced them both to a new audience, one of the first crossover hits. Williams telephoned Bennett and told him how much he loved Bennett’s version and he plays it on the juke box all the time.

Bennett’s next record, Blue Velvet was hit with the teenagers and he played a run of 7 concerts daily at the Paramount Theater in New York City. Rags to Riches followed and was another #1 hit. The producers of the upcoming musical Kismet got him to record A Stranger In Paradise, a song from the show in order to promote the opening. It worked and the recording hit #1 in Britain, and the young man from Queens became an international sensation.

In the late 50’s Ralph Sharon became Bennettt’s pianist, arranger, conductor, and confidant. Sharon persuaded him to get back to his jazz roots, to forget the sugary songs, and work with jazz instrumentalists like Herbie Mann and Art Blakely. Sharon worked with Bennett for over 50 years.

Sharon almost made a grave error when he put a copy of a song in a drawer and forgot about it; but years later, he remembered it and brought it out for a tour that included San Francisco. I Left My Heart In San Francisco far exceeding the boundaries of the Bay Area and became Bennett’s signature song.

(The first time I worked Tony Bennett was a two concert night at the Guthrie. When we were almost done with loading out the sound equipment, Tony came up to me, shook my hand, told me how much he enjoyed working with us, and asked if he and Ralph could work out something on the piano, which was still on stage. I told him fine and when the sound was loaded, I sat backstage and enjoyed a private Bennett/Sharon concert.

What I didn’t know at the time was Ralph Sharon had taken a few years off from working with Bennett to avoid the endless touring and this was their reunion concerts, and I was privileged to be present when they worked out details of what they thought should be improved on.

Although I worked Tony Bennett many times, one concert was at Orchestra Hall. In addition to Bennett, I worked Anthony Benedetto.)

The other talent Anthony enjoyed as a youngster was drawing, painting when he could afford oils and canvases. Once he became an established singer he turned to art as a relaxation. Oils, water colors, still life, landscapes, and portraits of the likes of Ellington, Fitzgerald, Gillespie, Mickey Rooney, and others.

His amateur status as an artist soon became professional. His works are in in galleries round the world. There are three hanging in the Smithsonian. All his art is singed Anthony Benedetto, which allows them to stand alone, not on the crutch of the famous ‘Tony Bennett’.

(The concert at Orchestra had a large screen and Anthony Benedetto’s art was projected on it as Tony Bennett sang downstage. I was on a spotlight in the balcony, a perfect place to see the painting projections and hear the Tony sing and Ralph on piano. What a treat!)

The 70’s s started out strong for Tony. He worked and recorded with jazz greats like Basie and Adderly. Then the Beatles turned the pop music into the dominating force. Bennett tried his hand at pop and failed. He tried acting and one picture convinced him to forget it.The one positive was he participated in the Civil Rights marches.

He moved to London and became a modest hit with his own talk show. Came back home and started a recording company which turned out two fine Bennett jazz records; but with no experience in distribution, the company failed.

At the end of the decade, Bennett had the IRS on his back along with a cocaine monkey. His music career was nothing except for gigs in Vegas. He almost died from a drug overdose. Enter his son, Danny, an aspiring musician whose career was going no where fast. He devoted his time to getting his father’s life and career back on track.

He convinced his father to stick to the American Standard tunes with jazz backing. Forget Vegas. Take gigs in small venues. He brought back Ralph Sharon just in time for me working the two of them at the Guthrie. Thank you, Danny.

While Tony’s fans stuck with him, he and his songs were unknown to the younger generations. To cure that Danny got him booked several times with Dave Letterman which led to MTV taking an interest and Tony Bennett Unplugged resulted in bringing not only young fans but also a contract again with Columbia, which led to Unplugged winning Album of the Year. Like Sinatra had done, he forewent recording singles and concentrated solely on albums.

Theme albums featuring the works of a great such as Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong followed along with his Duets album where he sings with a pantheon of great singers like Barbra Striesand. Elton John, Paul McCartney, among others. Albums with just him backed up by jazz artists.

He teamed with the talented K.D.Lang in both recording and live concerts. Later he would do the same with Lady Gaga, who would sing with him in Duets II, along with the voices of Willie Nelson and Amy Winehouse and others.

As the accolades and honors poured in, he continued to work for charitable and political causes. He wrote two books of his memories. There was a big to-do when he reached the age of 80, little did anyone suspect he would have another 15 years of work ahead. At age 88 he recorded another Grammy winner, Cheek to Cheek, which debuted at #1 on Billboard. And he went on an extended tour with Lady Gaga. There was another big to-do when he reached 90, followed by a singles recording of Fascinating Rhythm which he had recorded a few weeks short of 69 years before. At the age of 95, he cut his album. Love For Sale.

The last time I actually spoke to Tony Bennett was New Years Eve, 2015, in an elevator at the Paris Casino in Las Vegas. Bennett was appearing that evening at the Paris where my wife and I were staying. Tickets for his performance had been long sold out and much too expensive for us anyway.

(I was going to the lobby when the door opened up and Tony Bennett got in.I offered condolences on the death of his friend, Ralph Sharon. Tony smiled and said it was a great loss after all those years working with his friend.

Tony asked if I knew Ralph; but the elevator stopped at Bennett’s floor and ended our conversation. He wished me a Happy New Year.

And as the door closed he gave me a thumbs up.

OLD JAZZ VOICES

Louis Armstrong had a sold-out gig at Northrop Auditorium at the U of Mn.. The band drifted in from the bus for the sound check, but no Louis. The road manager told me that Mr. Armstrong didn’t take the bus and would be along shortly. I relayed this to Eddie Drake, the Comptroller of Concerts and Lectures. Eddie checked at the end of sound check and did not like it that Armstrong had not made it yet.

Come half-hour and still no Louis. Eddie Drake was getting nervous. The road manager told him no sweat, Louis would along.

The opening act went on and still no Louis. By now Eddie was beyond nervous. The last thing he wanted was to have to call off the show and return the money for the full house. The manager assured Eddie that Mr. Armstrong would show up soon.

The opening act was were playing their encore and Drake was standing in the wings signaling them to stretch it out when I got a call from the Head Usher.

She told me Mr. Armstrong was in the front lobby and asked if I could come up and bring him backstage. If he was still there when the audience broke for intermission they would mob him for autographs.

I told Eddie and he signaled the act to keep stretching.

Drake was waiting when I escorted Louis backstage. He was livid. Normally, after he has a glass of water and vodka, his nose takes on a red glow. The glow was redder than usual and even his cheeks were looked like they were on fire.

He glared at Armstrong and asked why he was so late. But he didn’t wait for an answer. He made a crack about professionals arrive on time.

The manager walked over and reminded Drake that he told him Louis would be coming. And nobody calls Mr. Armstrong unprofessional.

‘Well, Eddie said, looking up at the manager who stood a good half a foot taller than Eddie, ‘Maybe unprofessional is too strong. I should have said it was inconsiderate. He should have been here for sound check.’

Louis, who until then, answered laughingly, ‘Oh, I know how those boys sound. And those boys know how is sound. Sound does right for them, it’ll be right for me.’

‘Mr. Armstrong doesn’t need to be at sound check,’ the manager said,.‘Besides I told you he had things to do and would come when he was finished.’

Drake said that an act should be in the theater at half-hour.

Louis laughed again and said the first half-hour call was for the opening act. He showed up at the half-hour before he had to go on.

I tried not to laugh. Eddie was so angry, even his high forehead was red.

The manager took Louis by the elbow to walk him away; but Eddie wasn’t through. He continued his rant. Louis stopped and turned back to him.

It was evident that Louis Armstrong was having fun. He had that familiar smile on his face and a glint in his eyes.

Eddie threw out what he considered his biggest reason why Armstrong should have been in the Hall with the rest of his band. “What if your instrument didn’t arrive? When you come this late it would be impossible to get you another one in time for the show. Did you ever think of that? Huh? Huh?’

‘Well then I’d just blow one of the boys’ extra horn,’ Louis replied, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out his mouthpiece.

‘It’s not the horn, man.’ He held up his mouthpiece. ‘It’s the mouthpiece. Fits my lips good. Always carry with with me so I don’t lose it. Had it since I was jamming on the street for nickles. This is the instrument that counts. Put it in any horn and old Satchmo is ready to blow.’

‘Tell you what,’ Louis continued, ‘Get me an empty peach can. I’ll cut a hole in the bottom, stick my mouthpiece in the hole, and I’ll go deep, seriously deep.’

Eddie shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and went back to his office. He needed another glass of his special water.

Louis turned to the road manager and laughingly asked, ‘Something I said, you think?

‘Yeah, I wonder if you’ll be laughing if he comes back with an empty peach can,’ the manager said. ‘I know I will be.’

PS: The audience got what they came for that night. What a concert! Mr. Louis Armstrong gave us what we wanted to hear… even if he was fashionably late to the theater.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If James Lombard, the founder and ‘Impresario’ of the Concerts and Lectures at the U of MN, had his way the season would be nothing but classical and operatic soloists, artists he looked up to; but the Regents decreed that there be one jazz concert each season. The season after Louis Armstrong, had, in my opinion, two main acts in one concert, Wes Montgomery, great jazz guitarist, opened the concert, followed by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. Eddie Drake told me it was a package deal. Only nine musicians total in the two groups. He said they alternated as to who opened and who followed.

Wes Montgomery opened. He had broken into mainstream jazz a few years before. He was backed up for this concert by his two brothers, Buddy and Monk and an organist. They didn’t disappoint. Instead of the usual 30 to 45 minutes for the front act, they played a full set, with encores, almost an hour and a half. No jealousy from the ‘main’ act. Most of them were in the wings enjoying the Montgomery boys.

The sad thing was that a few weeks after this concert, Wes Montgomery died of a heart attack.

(Six years later I worked a Duke Ellington concert at the Guthrie, and the Duke died shortly after.)

Cannonball Adderley had also been adopted into mainstream jazz a few years before. He had his brother, Nat, on coronet. Nat was the one constant in any of Cannonball’s quintet. The other three positions fluctuated musicians over the years.

At intermission I was surprised when I saw James Lombard stride in backstage. He never came for concerts he considered beneath him. Later, Eddie Drake told me that Lombard showed up because he was curious to see any one who was named Cannonball.

Lombard always looked the part of an impresario, the man in charge. Tall, broad shouldered, distinguished gray hair. Suits that cried they were too expensive for most men.

He always walked as if all eyes were on him and with his height advantaged he looked down on most everyone he talked to. If you looked up the word pompous in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of James Lombard.

I was waiting for Lombard to come up to me when Cannonball Adderley tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Hey, man,’ he said, ‘Who do I see about the bread? Never play a gig without the bread upfront.’

I brought him over to where Lombard had stopped. Then since it was a money talk, I walked away, but I didn’t get far before Lombard called me back.

‘Don,’ he said in his low bass voice, ‘Would you send one of your crew to Dinky Town and bring back a loaf of bread? Mr. Cannonball says he has to eat before he goes on.’

Cannonball looked at me and slapped his forehead.

I explained to Lombard that Adderley didn’t want bread bread. Bread was jazz talk for money. He meant he wanted the money upfront before they played.

Lombard stiffened up and said, briskly, ‘He should have said spoken in English. Bread! Bring him down to see Drake. I don’t have time for this nonsense.’ He gave a loud haroomph and walked off stage. He got what he came for. He met the man named Cannonball.

‘Hey, man, is that cat for real,’ Cannonball asked me, ‘Or is he jiving with me?’

I told Cannonball there wasn’t a jive bone in that man’s body. He was born with the stick up his…

‘Cat needs to loosen up,’ Cannonball said. ‘I got some gooooood stuff…bet that would mellow him out.’

PS: Another great concert even if Lombard didn’t hang around to listen.

In these days of darkness, I suppose the method of mellowing out prescribed by Cannonball is a favorite among many people. As for me, I found that my day goes better if I start it out by listening to Louis singing…

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

I see trees of green

red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

and I say to myself

What a Wonderful World

And that is a wrap for today. Please, please, listen to the medical experts and Stay Safe.

Oh, if you want to read a tale of a famous musician that didn’t make it to the theater on time, here’s one you might get a kick out of:  https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/screamed-james-brown/

EPILOGUE – THE FALL

rainbow and roses

Just a few days before my fall, we had celebrated our 57th Wedding Anniversary. I was a few months from turning 80. But, you know, I never really felt old.

I had subjected my body to a lot of things over the years: bucked off horses, bruised up in sports, battered around jumping out of airplanes. A lot of hard work before I found my life’s occupation, stagehanding, and then when I settled on it, it was 24/7. long hours, little sleep, working part of it outside in the heat and the freezing cold.

I was fortunate to work as a stagehand, work that had great diversity, getting paid to work things that people paid big bucks to attend. Working big time names, acts, events. And while I missed so much of my sons growing up, I made up for my loss when they got old enough to work next to me. Sons, nephews, daughter-in-law all worked beside me. What a thrill! Something most people never experience. As the years went by I became one of the old-timers in the business, but I never really thought of myself as old.

Because of all that ‘fun’when I was younger I ended up with knees that creak and hurt, among other aches and pains. Heck, if I raced a tortoise it would be the damn turtle that would have to fall asleep in order for me to win. But you know I really never thought of myself as old.

I saw my our sons grow into adulthood and raise families. I saw our grandkids graduate from high schools and colleges. So proud of the family that my wife and I were blessed with. And even at our family get togethers and found myself looking up to talk to many of the family, I still really never thought of myself as old.

I saw the gray strands of hair that my wife tried to hide with black touch-ups. I looked in the mirror and for several years the face that stared back at me from the looking glass was not mine; but rather the face of my father in his later years. But still I never really thought of myself as old.

And then one night I fell, and from that night on I felt old, realized my dancing days were behind me. I must be content to watch baseball on TV, rather than climb stadium steps to watch in person or heaven forbid, actually play softball at a family picnic. I’m old…but happy.

As the grandkids grew older they saw less of their grandma and their poppa. What really hurt was the fact I had no more children to sit on my lap, to read to, to tell my stories to. The prospect of great grandkids are far in the future. And then we were blessed again.

Our youngest son, Dirk, married late and now we have three little girls to watch grow into young ladies, which they are doing much too fast. Already they are too big for Poppa’s lap; but not too old to overlook their grandparents’s need to be a part of their lives.

Dirk brought the three darlings to the hospital to see me, to help me recuperate faster, to cheer me up in a way no cards or flowers ever could.

I sat up in bed anticipating hugs and kisses. But the three of them stayed back from the bed.

The youngest, Jaycee, age 8, explained that ‘Daddy said we can’t hug or kiss you, Poppa, or even get close to you because we might give you some germs and get you infected.’

‘But don’t mean we don’t love you, Grandpa’, interjected Jenna, age 10.

‘Right!’ said Jayda, age 11.

What a wonderful get-well gift. A gift an old man can enjoy long after flowers fade and cards are thrown in a drawer.

FAMILY…mi familia…the family that raised me…the family that raised my wife…the family my wife and I raised and now their families.

I beg your forgiveness in my writing this account of my medical experiences due to the fall. I know that old people converse a great deal about their aches and pains and medical experiences like I have been doing. It can grow boring fast. In this case, I wrote it more as a catharsis for myself than for the entertainment of the reader. It is a shock to admit that you too have grown old, and a joy to be given a chance to grow older.

In THE FALL I used music as a prop. Laying flat on my face, hearing in my mind, Sinatra’s THAT’S LIFE, that song clearly was the Present.

The Past was represented by a song, C’EST LA VIE, bringing to mind my growing up in the French/Dakotah town of Mendota and a saying the old- timers said with a shrug of their shoulders.

And the fear of the unknown after brain surgery, QUE SERA, SERA, the Future.

And while all three are some of my favorites, the one song I start out my day is Louis Armstrong singing:

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people goin’ by
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’
“How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’,
“I love you.”

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLDAll Star Night 14

MLB All Star Game 2014

Minnesota Twins Field

LUCILLE IS NOW AN ORPHAN

b.b. king            The first time I worked B.B. King, I almost didn’t work B.B King. He couldn’t find the theater.

Sue Weill of the Walker Art Center had booked him for  two performances, 7 and 10 PM, at the Guthrie Theater. Naturally both shows were sell-outs.

King wasn’t there for sound check; but that was no big deal, his group had played together for a long time and they knew what B.B. wanted. But as it grew closer to show time, King’s absence became something to worry about. There was no front act booked, but the band worked it out to play the part of a front act without B.B. until he showed up.

Thanks to a policeman who liked blues guitar, King showed up after the band had just been on stage for about ten minutes. He walked on stage to thunderous applause and the audience had no idea there had been a problem. He  didn’t need any warmup to make Lucille sing.

The band had taken the bus from the last gig. B.B. flew. When he jumped into the cab at the airport, he told the driver to take him to the Walker Theater. He knew he was being paid by the Walker and just assumed that was the name of the theater.

The cabbie knew there was a Walker Building downtown Minneapolis and that the State Theater was part of that building, so he took him there. Built as a vaudeville house, the Stage was transformed into a movie theater, then a church, and eventually reverted back into a legit house. At this period in time, the State was closed as a movie house and it would be a few years before it became a church. The theater was dark.

King went to the door and hammered on the glass. After a few fruitless minutes, he began to kick at it.

A cop drove by and saw this man kicking the door. He thought it was an attempted break-in. He drew his gun and ordered the man to lay down that case he was carrying, Lucille was inside; but the cop thought it might contain a weapon. As he was frisking him, B.B. explained who he was and why he was kicking at the door of the theater.

Luckily, the policeman, who was a fan of B.B.’s music, remembered reading that King was in town to play at the Guthrie Theater, which was about a mile away. He told King he’d get him to the Guthrie.

King paid the cabbie, hopped in the back of the squad car and with the help of the siren and the lead-footed policeman, got to the gig just a few minutes late. No harm done except between shows, B.B. got a lot of razzing from his band members.

It reminds me a similar story about Louis Armstrong, told to me by Eddie D., who was stage managing the show at Northrop Auditorium. Louis didn’t show up for sound check and still wasn’t in the theater at show time. There was a front act so between the front act’s performance and the intermission, there was about an hour’s fudge-time before Louis was to go on for his gig.

About ten minutes after front act went on, Armstrong showed up in the front lobby asking how to get backstage. Eddie said he angerly told Armstrong that he was late, and he also missed sound check. Louis just laughed and pointed out he was blowing horns way before they had sound checks and mics and speaker systems.

Eddie then argued that Armstrong was lucky his trumpet got there okay. He asked Louis what would happen if the horn got lost or broken and he had to come up with another one in a hurry.

Again Louis laughed. ‘This is all I need,’ he said, pulling his horn mouthpiece out of his pocket. ‘I always got this with  me. Ol’ Satchmo could stick this in a tin can and blow the blues if he had to.’

I never had the privilege of working Ol’ Satchmo, but I did see him in concert once. On the other hand, I never sat in the audience for a B.B. King concert, but I had the privilege of working a number of his shows. Outside of that first time, all the other B.B. King’s concerts, I worked at various theaters around the Twin Cities, had B.B. headlining a bill with others, the likes of Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Bonny Raitt and other Blues guitarists. Whenever he was onstage, the wings were filled with musicians, both local and nationals like Bob Dylan, Prince,Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc.. For those of us working one of his shows, it was more than a concert, it was an event.

Thrill is gone

It was a bad few weeks for R&B aficionados. We not only lost B.B. King, we lost Percy Sledge, (When a man needs a woman) and Ben E. King, (Stand by me). Thank goodness for recordings; because they will always be there whenever we want to enjoy their music.

R.I.P. old timers. You fought big odds and you won.