Tony Bennett interview

A Chat with Tony Bennett

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Tony Bennett turned 80 this year (happy belated b-day, Tony) and to celebrate, director Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”) teamed with Bennett to produce an hour long special that commemorates the career of the legendary singer. A portion of the show features celebrity narration from Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Robert DeNiro, and Billy Crystal, discussing the highlights of Bennett’s work. The best bits, however, are the song and dance numbers; Bennett duets with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Christina Aguilera, Diana Krall, and John Legend, with Marshall having recreated sets from various periods in Bennett’s history, including a ‘60s variety show and the stage of Carnegie Hall. Bennett and Marshall did a teleconference to promote the special, and Bullz-Eye was able to ask a few questions of Mr. Bennett…though we apologize wholeheartedly that we didn’t ask Mr. Marshall a single thing. Sorry, Rob, “Chicago” was great, but this is Tony freaking Bennett, man!

Bullz-Eye: Hi, Tony and Rob. Tony, my 1-year-old daughter Allyson is a big fan of your work with Elmo.

Tony Bennett: (Laughs) Thank you!

BE: In the special, we hear the oft-cited quote from Frank Sinatra how he felt you were the best singer in the business; is there anyone to whom you’d extend a similar compliment? I’m sure some of your favorites are in the special.

TB: Well, I like Michael Bublé an awful lot. Everybody was good. John Legend is gonna be around. And, y’know, what I realized is the new artists who are on that special, they’re really the new institutional artists. They’re not gonna be fading out in a year or five years from now. After finding out how professional they all were and how prepared they were when they came in, everybody is a consummate artist already, and through the years, they’ll just come up with one idea after the other. So these are the new artists that are gonna be on the scene for many, many years.

BE: One of the segments in the special envisions “The Tony Bennett Show,” a TV variety show that looks straight out of the swinging ‘60s…but you actually had your own variety show briefly in the late ‘50s. Do you have any specific memories of that gig, and did you ever consider trying your hand at it again?

TB: Well…you never know! You never know, if an idea comes up, you might say, “Wait a minute, this is a different idea and it’s good.” But I’m very content with this…this one special is so gratifying for me, y’know? Because it’s almost like a big payoff in my life. It’s very different from any other artist that I know of that it’s happened to, because I’ve been touring for many years and playing all over the world for live audiences, and then to have this accomplishment happen, it’s just…over the moon for me. I’m just thrilled with it. I’ll be honest with you, if I never, ever do another special, I’ll still be very, very satisfied that this one was done right.

BE: You looked like you were having a lot of fun with Elton John, singing “Rags to Riches.”

TB: Oh! You know, we just played it on the Michael Parkinson show in Britain, a little clip of Elton John, and the audience reaction…and I’m even speaking to Rob right now…

Rob Marshall: Okay!

TB: …because he didn’t hear this yet…but you should hear the audience reaction! The man’s audience…he’s got a live audience; Michael is the Johnny Carson of Britain, everybody loves him…so they played that clip, and when they showed Elton on it, I couldn’t believe the audience reaction on that. They started laughing so loud!

RM: He’s hilarious. That’s so great!

BE: You’ve done quite a few comedic turns in your time, from “The Simpsons” to “Muppets Tonight.” Do you have a favorite of those appearances?

TB: Well, I liked the Muppets. That was really special. This one day that my whole group, the quartet that I’ve played with all over the world, was on there…that was the best day we ever had. It was just wonderful. You’ve got to believe that these Muppets…they act like they’re alive! And you finally believe that they’re alive, that you’re talking to them, they’re talking back; it’s like they’ve got a heartbeat. It’s amazing.

BE: And, finally, do you ever wonder what path your career would’ve taken if you hadn’t appeared alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the MTV Video Music Awards and started your career renaissance? Do you think you’d just be doing the occasional show rather than being the workhorse you continue to be nowadays?

TB: I’m not really…y’know, funnily enough, I work less lately! I have a great manager. My son’s a great manager; he has me working less and making more. You can’t ask for more than that!