Great American Songbook

2011-09-23 14:22

The gods of music were on Tony Bennett’s side when he recorded a song and taped a video with Amy Winehouse.

Little did the fox-haired Dean of Jazz know that the controversial musician would die a few weeks after their meeting
at the Abbey Road Studios in London, and spark off a worldwide outpouring of emotion.

In Winehouse’s demise, Bennett has found a way into the minds of young music lovers who followed the voice and tragic life of the British songbird.

The two recorded the 1930 standard Body and Soul, not the Anita Baker variety that R&B lovers are familiar with. The song is the break-out single of Bennett’s Duets II album.

Now having the distinction of the last official recording with her, Bennett enjoys some right to lead tributes for Winehouse, as he did at the MTV Awards ceremony last month.

“Amy was actually a good singer,” he told the UK Sunday Times. “And you can’t just do that. Either you’ve got it or
you haven’t. She knew how to syncopate and improvise. She was very sweet and actually a bit nervous about how it was going to come out.

“I said ‘I have a feeling you were influenced by Dinah Washington’ and that changed the whole date. She said: ‘Oh! That’s my goddess, that’s who I love more than anyone.’ It relaxed her, then the record came out well.”

Bennett, himself a former cocaine abuser, regrets not confronting Winehouse about her self-destructive life. “I wanted to talk to her about slowing down with alcohol and drugs, and I regret that I never had the chance.?.?.?A drink is just as dangerous as heroin.”

The recording session was filmed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe, who has films Chicago and Memoirs Of A Geisha under his belt, as part of a large documentary film on Bennett that is in the works.

This is the 63rd album of the dapper 85-year-old. He has 15 Grammy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

He has published three books – his autobiography The Good Life, and two on his paintings Tony Bennett: What My Heart Has Seen and Tony Bennett In The Studio: A Life of Art and Music.

Bennett founded, in association with the education department in New York City, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts – a public arts high school in his hometown of Astoria, Queens. Together with his wife Susan, he established Exploring the Arts, a charitable organisation which supports arts education.

Bennett started off as a singing waiter in his native Queens. His peers include late greats Sinatra and lyricist Irving Berlin.

Born Anthony Benedetto, he is Italian-American like Sinatra and the bel canto influence is still present in his take on modern music.

He told the Financial Times: “A rivalry happens when you’re playing tennis or golf. In the music world there’s room for everybody. I never wanted to be bigger than anyone else, I just wanted to be one of the best.”

He is the last of the original crooners known for their perfect songcraft.

He survived the onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll and other fads that punctuated the music timeline since his first release of Because of You in 1951.

Bennett now stands as a custodian of the Great American Songbook. He released the duets first in 2006 featuring Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, George Michael, Elton John and John Legend on swing standards.

And this follow-up carries on where he left off. Collaborations with American music royalty Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Natalie Cole and Mariah Carey are musical treasures.

Roping in today’s vanguard headed by pop-tart Lady Gaga and Winehouse is a clever strategic move by Bennett to ensure the elusive nine-to-90 following.

Also in the line-up is Carrie Underwood, John Mayer and Queen Latifah. The phenomenal voices of Norah Jones, Andrea Bocelli and Michael Bublé are also included.

Bennett identifies George Burns as his idol. The American comedian and actor performed until he reached 100. Bennett believes that if he remains healthy he too will still be on stage as a centenarian.

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