If he does what he usually does, at some point tonight on the Kravis Center stage, Tony Bennett will set aside his microphone and sing “Fly Me To The Moon,” his magnificent baritone filling the hall with no need for amplification.
It’s a neat trick for any singer. That Tony Bennett is doing it at 90 years old is, well, you almost run out of superlatives.
Legend. Icon. American treasure. Renaissance man. MTV hipster. Sharp dresser. Class act. Sinatra’s favorite singer. Lady Gaga’s mentor. The last redwood in the forest.
Every time Tony Bennett comes to town, you wonder: Is this the last chance? But the man is buoyant, ebullient and dedicated to his craft. He still makes you think the best is yet to come.
His recent concert tour is drawing raves.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Bennett charmed the enraptured crowd with a set list of standards that demonstrated he can still unleash a wallop of a note …”
The Florida-Times Union: “He sings from the Great American Songbook … the sort of songs that make you start snapping your fingers and wishing you had a cigarette and a scotch, even if you don’t smoke or drink.”
The Chicago Tribune: “The man who sang from memory roughly two dozen songs with hardly a pause Saturday night looked and sounded like an artist just beginning the autumn of his years. As for his energy level, rhythmic vigor, breath control, accuracy of pitch and soft-shoe dance steps: timeless.”
Since the 1990s, Palm Beach Post reporters have been interviewing Tony Bennett. He once played a six-night stand at the Jupiter Theater. He has displayed paintings at local art galleries. He’s appeared at local charity functions. He waved to the crowds at Donald Trump’s Palm Beach wedding.
Culling from decades of our interviews, here is some of the wit, wisdom and positive philosophy of Mr. Anthony Benedetto.
On his enduring popularity: “I just tried to be as consistent as possible. Sting once mentioned that you get addicted to the audience. You hear the applause and it turns you on and you can’t wait for that next show in that next town. It’s a great feeling.”
On the secret of longevity: Jazz drummer Buddy Rich “came up with a line that stayed with me. They usually say in show business you’re only as good as your last show. He said, ‘You’re only as good as your next show. The last one is gone already.’ Every time you go in front of an audience, make it like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it and just go for it.”
On staying in shape: “I’m not really athletic. I have to be pushed. I do have a trainer, and I play tennis three times a week. I eat very well, all good food, and I have one glass of wine at night.”
On staying happy: “I get wrapped up in the creative zone of music and art. I have the gift of being blessed with a passion.”
On working at his craft: “I’m trying to get better and better and to prove to young people that if you’re disciplined and take care of yourself, you can get better rather than fade out because you’re old.”
On becoming the darling of younger hipsters: “I’ve found this whole new audience that’s twice as enthusiastic as any audience I ever had before. They feel my sincerity. It’s almost like they’ve woke up from having this vast marketing thrown at them by advertisers saying ‘this is your music and your parents like the other kind.’ It was not based on truth.”
On his musical inspirations: “When I was young, I took singing lessons from Mimi Spear, a wonderful singing coach, and she told me, ‘Don’t imitate other singers; imitate musicians.’ That’s the same thing that Billie Holiday said in her book, that she imitated Louis Armstrong. I imitated (jazz pianist) Art Tatum. He held on to the basic melody like a rock, but his chords and sense of accompaniment were astounding.”
On painting vs. singing: “The greatest compliment I could ever get is being called a good singer and a good painter. I’ve always had a passion for both … I love both equally. It’s like a balance. But I paint almost every day. I like oils best, but when I travel I do a lot of watercolor, pen and ink, sketches and charcoal. I did some watercolors at the beach in Jupiter.”
On his first music review: “My first write-up was treacherous. They said I was an Italian mama’s boy with a voice like sandpaper.”
On critics’ reaction to his art: “I’m a singer, so they say I’m just a singer. But artists should take on a Renaissance attitude. If you are creative, you can be creative in many fields.”
On what he sees when walking on stage: “The lights are so bright, and your eyes see so many things, so many patterns. Duke Ellington once said he saw butterflies. I sometimes see S-shapes, but mostly I see hearts and I play to them. I think that’s great because I am always trying to exude love to the audience.”
On retirement (he was 67 at the time): “As long as I have my health, I’m never going to retire.”
Staff writer Kevin D. Thompson and former staff writers Charles Passy, Scott Benarde, Michael Lasalandra, Peter Smith and Gary Schwan contributed to this report.
IF YOU GO
When: 8 tonight
Where: Kravis Center, West Palm Beach