If you’re like us, you love the world of art and entertainment showcased on PBS’s Great Performances. Friends, we cannot recommend this week’s new episode highly enough! Check your local listings to catch an extraordinary documentary on the making of Tony Bennett’s Duet’s II album. The legendary Mr. Bennett elegantly continues to bring generations together with great music, and there’s no end in sight. He doesn’t believe in retiring. Not if you get to do what you love.
Streetlamp’s own Michael Ingersoll enjoyed the awesome privilege of meeting Tony Bennett just a few years ago. Both gentlemen appeared as musical guests on the 2007 Primetime Emmy Awards. Mr. Bennett, who was honored that night with an Emmy for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for his television special Tony Bennett: An American Classic, sang a scintillating duet with Christina Aguilera. And Mr. Ingersoll, who was then playing to sold-out houses in the San Francisco production of Jersey Boys, performed a rocking Four Seasons medley in tribute to those other Jersey boys, HBO’s The Sopranos. Ingersoll was thrilled to be surrounded by the many show-busniess luminaries the ceremony attracts. But perhaps no encounter with an admired icon was more influential than the one with Mr. Bennett.
Prior to the evening’s glitz and glamour, those who will be performing on the live telecast attend an afternoon rehearsal of the show. Michael was waiting quietly in the auditorium while host Ryan Seacrest pre-taped a few transitional segments. Next to take the stage was Tony Bennett. Tony learned that his duet partner Christina Aguilera may or may not be appearing as scheduled, due to her current pregnancy. So he decided to prepare for anything to happen. The consummate professional calmly started working through his music, trying different phrasings and approaches. He stopped and started, right there in front of everyone present, exploring the music.
What amazed Michael about watching him prepare was the enormous since of risk of the performance. If so much was up in the air, why not pre-record something just to be sure? It’s no surprise that big stars lip sync on TV all the time, sometimes by their own insistence and sometimes by that of a producer. The then 80 year old Tony Bennett certainly had nothing to prove to anyone, so why take the risk to sing live?
Michael got his chance to ask Mr. Bennett directly. A few hours later, just before the the start of the show, the performers escaped the scrutiny of the red carpet for the privacy of the “green room” backstage. Surrounded with celebrities, Michael patiently waited his turn to approach Tony, who was then being chatted up by Al Gore. Michael was greeted warmly by the living legend, whose presence was centered and serene. After exchanging pleasantries, Michael asked about the impending performance. Why sing live? Why not take the safe way? Tony insisted that he never would and never did fake it because he was an artist. He said that if you’re breathing, and in the moment, the audience can tell. They can feel it if you’re present and telling the story of the song. And they can feel it if you’re lying. People don’t want to be lied to. So just give it what you got. Be real. That what makes people happy.
His advice was simple and profound. You can watch both performances from that night right here:
Following the televised Emmy Award ceremony the participants immediately attend dinner at the exclusive Governor’s Ball. Here, in a gorgeous Art Deco banquet hall, stars mingle while their winning statuettes are crammed onto tables with surf and turf. The entertainment for this elegant event is second to none. When the lights hit the stage in the center of the room to reveal the surprise performer, there stood none other than the man of the hour, Mr. Tony Bennett. After working all day through rehearsals, red carpet, and ceremony, the 80 year old wasn’t ready to quit. Tony was gonna give a little private concert. After a collective gasp of disbelief, the wondering crowd erupted into cheers. Then the lucky attendees hushed themselves just as quickly so as not to miss a note. They all knew this was a moment to treasure. Remember the end of the movie Analyze This? When Tony appears in a cameo to romantically serenade the newlywed couple privately on their terrace? It felt like that. Mr. Bennett graced the crowd with three songs, including his signature “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” If you’ve ever seen him live, then you know. It was unforgettable.
Just in case you’d like to enjoy that old favorite now, here’s a classic clip of the classiest guy around. Enjoy!