Concert Review: Tony Bennett at the Arsht Center, January 8

Categories: Concert Review
Photo by Manny Hernandez
Tony Bennett performing at the Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht Center.
Tony Bennett
Friday, January 8, 2010
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami

Better Than:
The Best

The new songs are "lousy." That's what Tony Bennett said from the stage of the Arsht Center during his sold-out show last Friday night. And Tony Bennett knows about song. As I pointed out in my preview, the legendary saloon singer has been at it for six (sic) decades, and by at it I mean taking pages from the Great American Songbook and turning them into platinum. At the performing art center, the man with the midas-plus voice swung through nearly 90 minutes of the best of those songs, and he had the entire venue (which, by the way, he considers "one of the most beautiful in the world") in a continuous swoon.

And Bennett not only delivered the goods on the greatest songs ever written, he made damn sure that everyone in the room knew who wrote what and (in many cases) when, prefacing each tune with Hall of Fame names such as Arlen and Kern and Sondheim and Gershwin and anyone else worthy of the designation.

But Bennett didn't just sing these hallowed songs, he interpreted them, with an invention and a flair that turned each and every tune into something well above the usual standard. "Speak Low" (Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash) swung as smoothly as when he did it back in the '70s with pianist Bill Evans, "Sing, You Sinners" (Sam Coslow and W. Franke Harling) roused the crowd like some elegant tent revival meeting, and (later) "Shadow of Your Smile" (Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster) was played as a playful bossa nova (with Bennett performing a quick and quite nimble slow shoe at the break).

Bennett was all smiles too while segueing through "Smile" (Charlie Chaplin) and "When You're Smiling" (Larry Shay and Mark Fisher), both of which followed a pitch perfect version of "The Best is Yet to Come" (Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh) and preceded a singular rendition of "The Good Life" (Sacha Distel and Jack Reardon). Other signatures included the obligatory (and wonderful) "Rags to Riches" (Richard Adler and Jerry Ross) and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" (George Cory and Douglass Cross). Bennett even culled a couple classics from Broadway, including "Stranger in Paradise" (from Kismet) and "Maybe This Time" (from Cabaret), which rose and rose and rose until it eventually reached the rafters and left the whole Arsht agog at his enduring mastery.

Speaking of enduring, at one point Bennett asked the sound man to turn off the microphone and then he delivered a version of "Fly Me to the Moon" that had no trouble filling the room, despite the lack of amplification. And it proved quite nicely that Bennett, even at 84, still has chops enough to awe.

Not that he really needed to prove anything to this crowd, who most likely bought their tickets the minute they heard the man was coming to town. Will it be the last time we all get to catch the master? I sure hope not. But be sure about this: this time we all won.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: I wrote about Bennett in these pages over 15 years ago (really). And had I been at it 15 years before that, I would have written about him then, too.

Random Detail:
Bennett's quartet (drummer Harold Jones, bassist Paul Langosch, guitarist Gray Sargent and pianist Lee Musiker) did much to help Bennett push the songs into clever and jazzy dimensions.

By the Way: You can hear much of what you missed right here.

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