new york –
What do Paul McCartney, Queen Latifah, Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder have in common?
Oh, Aretha Franklin, KD Lang, Bono, Billy Joel too. Not to mention Carrie Underwood, Judy Garland, John Legend and Plácido Domingo. And don’t forget…
stop. Listing all the musicians who have duetted with Tony Bennett would take up the rest of the space. His place in music history is already stable.
Bennett, who died Friday at the age of 96, was indeed “the last great saloon singer of the mid-20th century,” as Charles J. Gans wrote in The Associated Press. But that summation befits a man trapped in time and trapped in a particular era, and Tony Bennett was never.
Instead, Bennett transcended generations in a way few musicians have.
His interpretation of the work of songwriters Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and George Gershwin with a voice as strong and strong as the ’90s was no surprise for older listeners. He was influenced by jazz, helped popularize it, and marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr.
He was also admired by those who said if he left his heart in San Francisco, it would be the corner of Haight-Ashbury, a trendy dance club.
“You have to think it’s all about the man in the end,” said singer Ben Folds, 56, 40 years younger than the last Bennett.
“His voice is very kind, casual, and instant,” Foles said. “So is his language. There’s nothing harsh. He’s very generous. A lot of people in his generation didn’t have that charm because, after all, they didn’t feel like they cared about him.”
Many of Bennett’s successful duets later in his career were a tribute to the clever marketing of his son and manager Danny, who allowed his father’s career to continue long after most of his colleagues had reached the end of their lives.
But a famous duet partner could say no. Few people did.
Foles said he doesn’t think they went unnoticed by the kind and gentle demeanor he brought to the studio when working with people like Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse. Bennett and Winehouse’s duet, “Body and Soul,” was the last studio recording she made before her death.
Gaga, New Yorker-born Stephanie Germanotta, was able to understand New Yorker-born Anthony Benedetto, became like family, and lovingly guided him to musical triumphs despite suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Bennett drew and signed a picture of the Miles Davis trumpet that Gaga wears as a tattoo on his arm.
kd lang’s formidable voice was second to none when it was showcased in a series of memorable performances with Bennett in the 1990s.
“He was a haven for American songbooks,” Lang told The Associated Press. “He made sure he loved singing. He didn’t sing songs he didn’t love.”
Don’t get me wrong. Bennett brought the goods. Watch the video of him on stage at Shea Stadium and Billy He sings “New York State of Mind” with Joel. When his guest steals the song, Joel lights up his eyes as he watches it.
His achievement was congratulated by Tony Bennett.
At a fundraiser in San Francisco years ago, when the insidious effects of Alzheimer’s disease were already evident, Foles watched dumbfounded as Bennett cut in perfect pitch to a few bars of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Bennett always performed in tuxedos and tailored suits, exuding the grace of an older generation. In a Los Angeles hotel room where an earthquake struck before dawn in 1994, Bennett took time to change into a suit before joining bathrobe-clad evacuees, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Music critic Jim Farber said that in all his work with contemporary artists, he never sounded out of age. He said Bennett always bent the music to his musical will, but never the other way around.
“From Gaga to Diana Krall to John Mayer, there are a lot of singers,” said Lang. “Now they can continue to have the constant understanding they received directly from him.”
Something more important was usually happening in the audience.
Two years ago, author Christine Passarella remembered sitting in a lawn chair in a Brooklyn park with her mother and baby daughter in the 1980s, listening to Bennett sing.
“Seeing his music live was like watching my uncle hugging me and my mother. His music helped us remember the only love our father and mother had,” she wrote.
Countless people have remembered similar moments with their families over the years, hearing Bennett’s voice echoing warmly as they sat with their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. I am in it too.
It is, after all, a legacy that should be cherished above all else.