Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ageless Tony Bennett dazzles in Costa Mesa

My review of Tony Bennett's wonderful Sunday night, October 5, 2014 concert was originally posted on The Orange County Register site on Monday afternoon, Oct. 6, 2014. A special "thank you" to Kelly A. Swift for the use of her outstanding photographs!

Tony Bennett on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Kelly A. Swift
The 88-year-old singer performs before a packed house at Segerstrom Hall.

When Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s jazz album Cheek To Cheek debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz Album and Traditional Jazz Album Charts last week, the 88-year-old Bennett broke his own record of being the oldest artist to score a No. 1 release.
Watching the multiple Grammy winner dazzle a capacity crowd at Segerstrom Hall on Sunday evening, it was easy to see how the New York native can still wow. While any artist with his continuing legacy might be deserving of a standing ovation, Bennett earned each of his with a powerful and nuanced touch that struck at the core of the timeless standards he has popularized over a 60-year career.
Tony Bennett at Segerstrom Hall.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift
For 75 minutes, Bennett and his jazz quartet performed a mix of pop standards and jazz selections that showcased how impressive he remains as a singer and how the timbre of his voice has changed little over the decades. Early highlights included the uptempo “They All Laughed,” with Bennett using his hands to exaggerate key lyrics that elicited cheers from the audience. He was then able to change things up quickly, bringing depth and potency to the ballad “Maybe This Time.” The song featured an incredible build with his voice artfully matching the dynamics of his band.
The approach was generally that Bennett would perform an uptempo song, followed by a ballad, with frequent opportunities to showcase all four musicians via impressive solos. That straightforward formula never got in the way of the parade of amazing songs that comprised the set. From a bubbly “I Got Rhythm” and melancholy-filled “Stranger in Paradise” to Steven Sondheim's “Old Friends,” performed as a vocal duet with his daughter Antonia Bennett, this was a night that flew by.
Late set highlights included a playful “The Best is Yet to Come” that had everyone clapping along in time with the band, and a beautiful “The Way You Look Tonight.”
The single most affecting performance of the night was a tear-inducing version of Charlie Chaplin's “Smile” (Bennett recalled receiving a letter from Chaplin for having made the song popular again).
How did Bennett end his amazing concert? Simply by setting aside his microphone and hushing the crowd as he sang “Fly Me to the Moon” to the sparse accompaniment of guitarist Gray Sargent. A crooner for the ages.
Antonia Bennett on Oct. 5. Photo: Kelly A. Swift
Bennett’s daughter Antonia opened the concert with a 20-minute set of standards. Her voice lacks the unique characteristics of her father, but she displayed plenty of technical skills, especially on a wonderful version of the Noel Coward song “Sail Away.”

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