Tony Bennett & Diana Krall: Streetwise, Yet Sophisticated

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Love Is Here To Stay (Verve/Columbia) is the first album-length, one-on-one collaboration that Tony Bennett has recorded with his good friend Diana Krall.

(Photo: Mark Seliger)

Bennett’s jazz voice began to take shape on New York’s 52nd Street. “I’d go into the little clubs and listen to professional singers and musicians, and I liked what I was hearing,” he recalled. “I said, ‘This is the way to go.’ But even though everybody was playing jazz, you had to do your own thing, so you’d be recognized as doing something no one else was doing. Therefore, that became your style.”

After he signed with Columbia Records, in 1950, Bennett fought with executives who wanted straight versions of the material. “The guys who were presenting artists said, ‘You’ve got to do it this way.’ I said, ‘That’s not the way I do it. I do it my own way.’ They said, ‘What do you mean, your own way?’ I said, ‘I just do it a different way. I’m different like that.’

“So, I’d improvise. When I first started doing that, they’d say, ‘What are you doing? You’re not singing the melody.’ I’d say, ‘But it’s in the chord.’ It got confusing, but I just had to go straight ahead because I knew what I was doing was right.” The proof was in the record sales, and the executives soon conceded the point.

Bennett also has fought on other fronts, addressing the foibles of human nature and the injustices of society—another point that attracted him to the Gershwins’ music. The brothers drew on, and contributed to, the social discourse—a dimension, Bennett said, that helps lend their songs a timeless quality.

“Most critics consider them old-time songwriters,” he said. “They’re so wrong, because 50 years from now, their music will sound brand new.”

Few artists reveal the freshness in that music with Bennett’s authority, according to Krall.

“He’s not just singing these songs,” she said. “He knows what they are inside and out. He’s a very deep person on many levels—sometimes quietly so and sometimes you ask him about things, and he’ll tell you what he thinks. It’s pretty phenomenal emotionally.”

As Krall spoke, the emotion was palpable. Suddenly, in a style that evoked Bennett’s, she began singing the opening of the verse to “Love Is Here To Stay”: “The more I read the papers/ The less I comprehend/ The world and all its capers/ And how it all will end.” In her reading, the relevance to today’s world of “alternative facts” was hard to discount.

For his part, Bennett cited a couplet from “Who Cares?”—a staple of his sets—that, at a time of economic uncertainty, always gets a rise: “Who cares what banks fail in Yonkers/ Long as you’ve got a kiss that conquers.” On the album, he plays the tune short and sweet, its running time less than two minutes. Performed by Bennett and Charlap’s trio, it ends the album with a signature Bennett crescendo and a bang.

“We just winged it,” Bennett recalled. “You feel it at the moment. You say, ‘Oh, this is good.’ Boom, you just do it and it’s right there. It’s proper involvement with the artist you’re working with. You hear what they’re doing and they hear what you’re doing, and together it becomes a new vitalness.”

To be sure, Bennett remains a vital force. Last year, after recording the new album, he became the first interpretive singer to receive the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, a lifetime achievement award. It’s yet another addition to the raft of accolades he has received, among them 19 Grammys, the 2005 Kennedy Center Honors award and a 2006 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.

Not one to dwell on such recognition, Bennett, in his life as in his music, lives largely in the moment—which is not to say he has no regrets. For one, he pointed wistfully to an early photo of himself with Rosemary Clooney, with whom he partnered on CBS radio and TV shows in 1950, after both had signed with Columbia.

“Management was trying to make her so big,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not in competition with her. I love being with her. We’ll do it together.’ It never worked out, but we always ended up being good friends.”

While that partnership was short-lived, its spirit, in Krall’s telling, manifested itself during the making of the new album. “I felt very much the presence of Rosemary Clooney on this record,” she said. “I felt very close to her.”

Whether that feeling will be recaptured is an open question. Thus far, Bennett and Krall are booked to appear on a few TV shows: Live with Kelly and Ryan, ABC’s Good Morning America, and NBC’s Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. But the singers, who in 2000 toured together and planned an album, conveyed separately that they are open to the idea of scheduling concerts.

Meanwhile, Bennett will hit the road. Working with a quartet, he routinely gets multiple standing ovations in a night. As long as he’s healthy and singing well, he said, “I’m never going to retire. I always feel I can get better as I go along. I’ll come up with something that’s never been done before.” DB

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On Sale Now
July 2022
Sean Jones
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