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Tony Bennett

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Tony Bennett

In a theater outside New York City, two great singers came together for a series of special sessions. The result, A Wonderful World, brings the great Tony Bennett and renowned vocalist k.d. lang together for a remarkable collection of duets on songs popularized by Louis Armstrong. Bennett, who has already established himself as a premier interpreter of American popular song on albums such as The Art of Excellence, Perfectly Frank, and Bennett on Holiday adds to his stellar repertoire with A Wonderful World.

Says Tony: "Greats like Sinatra and Ella made albums saluting the best American composers. So on my last several albums, my way has been to salute the great performers themselves. I enjoy doing that because it's a fresh approach, but it's also an excuse for me to sing some wonderful, wonderful songs."

k.d. lang, whose own masterful career spans country, pop and torch song, joined Tony on tour during the summer of 2001 and has known Tony since they recorded "Moonglow" together in 1994 for Tony's "MTV Unplugged" television special. "The opportunity for me to make a whole album with Tony Bennett was one of those things where you can't believe your good fortune," k.d. admits. "He's a legend, but more than that he's the best of a style of singing I've always admired."

Producing on A Wonderful World is T Bone Burnett, the veteran producer famous for a long and eclectic string of successes including most recently the 2001 Grammy winner for Album of the Year, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Wistful, beautiful, and full of emotion, A Wonderful World marks a very special union and a giant leap forward for two of contemporary music's most remarkable voices.

Bennett, himself a 1994 Grammy Winner for "Album of the Year," is known to the world for his golden voice and a career that spans forty years of jazz, popular song and even MTV, where his 1994 Unplugged album was a blockbuster hit. The singer says he's long been smitten with Armstrong and was eager to jump into a project like this. "Louis is the source of American popular music," Tony observes. "He influenced everybody from Sinatra to Peggy Lee to Charlie Parker and Bob Dylan." To this day, Tony keeps an extensive collection of Armstrong vinyl records. "Even as a kid I could hear one or two notes of a song and know it was him-- there was so much feeling and honesty and humbleness. He's a great teacher for a musician to listen to."

Although Tony's been familiar with Armstrong's work since he was a young man, a few memories of the great entertainer stand out. "It was 1970, during the height of the Vietnam war," Tony remembers, "and before singing 'A Wonderful World,' Louis delivered a reassuring little oration on peace and getting along, letting people know that things would get better. It was beautiful, simple, and it stayed with me. It's something that's still relevant today." When it came time to choose songs from Armstrong's vast catalog of works for the new album, "What A Wonderful World" was the first choice.

k.d. lang says that although she was aware of Armstrong's importance, she did not fully appreciate his influence until recently when she began studying his music. "He completely shaped pop music," comments k.d. "You hear his influence and his phrasing everywhere. He invented swing."

In this age of digital recording technology, the making of A Wonderful World combined a live theatrical setting and state-of-the-art production elements. Recorded in a series of marathon sessions over three days, it was made inside the acoustically-splendid Harms Theater in Englewood, New Jersey, using all live instruments. The old theater, which was once the site of vaudeville shows, was emptied out except for the two singers, the producer and an orchestra, which lent the proceedings a special air of intimacy. "We kept the lights low and it helped create a mood," says k.d. "It was such a magical few days. We were in this great old empty theater, just Tony and I and the band. I wish all recording sessions were this comfortable." According to Tony, "We kept it very relaxed and casual. k.d. loved the theater and the mood inspired us both. We improvised on every take and never did the same song the same way twice. We're both foremost live performers so I think both of us felt right at home there."

The singers were backed by a 50-piece orchestra and Tony's regular touring quartet: Lee Musiker on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar, Paul Langosch on bass, and Clayton Cameron on drums. The orchestrations were done by Peter Matz in his last project before his passing. The songs were recorded live and mixed by Tony's son, Dae Bennett, who piped the music through a state-of-the-art 64 channel fiber optic cable to the brand new Bennett Studios just down the block. The newly opened Bennett Studios is located in a Victorian-era former train station in Englewood.

Producer T Bone Burnett and Tony first met while making the soundtrack to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, on which Tony sang "If Yesterday Could Only Be Tomorrow." "T Bone and I had only met once but we got together so well that I wanted to work with him again," says Tony. "He can hear things other producers can't hear and he's quick at coming up with answers when you're in the studio. He made us all comfortable."

The song selection, Tony explains, were numbers that have in one way or another come to be identified with Armstrong. "We chose the songs," he says, "that Armstrong made definitive." Of "What A Wonderful World," Tony says, "I just love Louis' version of it. So restrained and yet so powerful." k.d. says that song took on a special significance to her as well: "We were on the road, Tony and I, when September 11th happened, and something about the song reminds me of that day."

Another favorite of both Tony and k.d. is the classic "La Vie En Rose." According to k.d., "I brought this one to the table. I always loved the song and remember, when I was younger, dancing to the old Grace Jones version of it. So we decided that we'd do a bossa nova version. Tony has his own take on the tune: "Louis made that one a hit. I did a special with him and George Shearing once where Louis sang it. For the new album I wanted to do something a little unexpected so we gave it a bossa nova style and an intimate sound, like something João Gilberto would do. It took on a new life."

One track, "Dream A Little Dream," especially sparked Tony's interest. "This was one of Louis' big hits and k.d. and I really got in sync on that one," he enthuses. k.d. says the song sparked fond memories in her. "I knew it from Cass Elliott's version years ago," she explains, "and when I heard Ella and Louie do it I was astounded at the different textures in their voices as they wove together. I knew we wanted to do something like that."

The spectacular "Exactly Like You" is an up-tempo number that, Tony says, "...really swings and I love the message of it -- two people who really care for each singing to each other. We wanted to come out on a high note and this was it." k.d. concurs, "This one is one of my faves. It's a simple song, but it touches on very complex emotions, the indefinable dynamic between two people. There's something special that happens when Tony and I sing together. I sing better when he's in the room. It's like a pitcher pitching in front of a pitching coach. This song is an example of that."

For the k.d. lang solo number, "That Lucky Old Sun," the singer remembers deciding that this song deserved a special arrangement, so she suggested that the orchestra stand down while a simple guitar and bass backed her. "I wanted to give the song a mood of surrender," she says, "so I tore it down completely and built it up again into a quiet soliloquy. I think it worked." Tony describes it as "...a wonderful performance. k.d. does such a beautiful, tender job with it."

The bittersweet "If We Never Meet Again" is described by Tony as "an old-time ballad, kind of like 'As Time Goes By,' and I think the timing of it is beautiful considering everything that happened on 9-11 and all the people who never got to say goodbye to a loved one." "I wasn't fond of the song at first," k.d. admits, "but the way we recorded it I absolutely love it. To end the record on it is poignant and it signifies a passing of time, a gift between two people, like a rose to remember." Tony calls KD " a wonderful singer. She's an expert. She knows how to phrase and breathe life into a song like nobody else."

"Because of everything that's happened, I'm glad we made a peaceful album," adds Tony. "We wanted to make something calm, to give people a little oasis of serenity instead of being stressed out. This album is something that floats along and has a nice mellowness to it. To really communicate with people you've got to do something a little different. I believe we have."

Louis Armstrong would agree, "OOHHHHHHH YEAHHHHHHH!"


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The love affair that began forty years ago with Tony Bennett and the City by the Bay continues with a very special evening of song, "Tony Bennett's Wonderful World: Live From San Francisco." Filmed at the famed Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, the site of Bennett's first public performance in 1962 of his now renowned signature song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," this definitive concert showcasing Bennett's musical legacy airs on PBS stations nationwide in December 2002.

Filmed in front of a live audience who enjoyed 90 minutes of an unforgettable evening of Bennett's greatest hits and personal favorites. The ten-time Grammy winner, whom the New York Times recently described as being "at the top of his game," performed with a dynamic mix of exuberance and nuance, all of which was presented with an assurance and mastery that has earned him his well-deserved legendary status. Bennett's superb touring quartet (Lee Musiker, piano; Paul Langosch, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; and Gray Sargent, guitar) provide impeccable accompaniment to such Bennett classics as "Just In Time," "Because of You," "I Wanna Be Around," "Cold, Cold, Heart," and of course, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco, for which he received one of the evening's many standing ovations.

Joining Bennett for a special selection of duets from their new CD, A Wonderful World, was multiple-Grammy winner k.d. lang. The two, who first sang together on Bennett's "MTV Unplugged" special in 1994, perform the Armstrong classic, "What A Wonderful World," as well as an exquisite English language version of "La Vie En Rose."


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Tony Bennett is the kind of artist that moves the hearts and souls of audiences. He's the singer's singer and has received high praise from his colleagues through the years, including Frank Sinatra who stated unequivocally, "Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business." He is an international treasure who was honored by the United Nations with their "Citizen of the World" honor which aptly describes the scope of his accomplishments

The son of a grocer and Italian-born immigrant, Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born in August 3, 1926, in the Astoria section of Queens. He attended the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, where he continued nurturing his two passions -- singing and painting. His boyhood idols included Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, both big influences on Bennett's easy, natural singing style. Tony sang while waiting tables as a teenager then performed with military bands during his Army enlistment in World War II. He later had vocal studies at the American Theatre Wing school. The first time Bennett sang in a nightclub was 1946 when he sat in with trombonist Tyree Glenn at the Shangri-La in Astoria.

Bennett's big break came in 1949 when comedian Bob Hope noticed him working with Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village in New York City. As Bennett recalls, "Bob Hope came down to check out my act. He liked my singing so much that after the show he came back to see me in my dressing room and said, 'Come on kid, you're going to come to the Paramount and sing with me.' But first he told me he didn't care for my stage name (Joe Bari) and asked me what my real name was. I told him, 'My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto,' and he said, 'We'll call you Tony Bennett.' And that's how it happened. A new Americanized name, the start of a wonderful career and a glorious adventure that has continued for fifty years."

With over 50 million records sold world-wide and platinum and gold albums to his credit, Bennett has won ten Grammy Awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The MTV generation first took Tony Bennett to heart during his appearance with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the 1993 MTV Video Awards ceremony. He appeared on "MTV Unplugged" and the resulting recording of the same name garnered the singer Grammy's top award, "Album of the Year." "Tony Bennett has not just bridged the generation gap," pointed out The New York Times, "he has demolished it. He has solidly connected with a younger crowd weaned on rock. And there have been no compromises." Bennett credits his son and manager, Danny, for his success in capturing a whole new generation of listeners.

His initial successes came via a string of Columbia singles in the early 1950's, including such chart-toppers as "Because of You," "Rags To Riches" and a remake of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." He had 24 songs in the Top 40, including "I Wanna Be Around," "The Good Life," "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)" and his signature song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," which garnered him two Grammy Awards. Tony Bennett is one of a handful of artists to have new albums charting in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and beyond. He introduced a multitude of songs into the great American Songbook that have since become standards for pop music. He has toured the world to sold out audiences with rave reviews whenever he performs. Bennett re-signed with Columbia Records in 1986 and released the critically acclaimed The Art Of Excellence. Since his 1991 show-stopping performance at the Grammy Awards of "When Do The Bells Ring For Me," from his Astoria album, he has received a string of Grammy Awards for releases including Steppin' Out, Perfectly Frank, and MTV Unplugged. In celebration of his unparalleled contributions to popular music with worldwide record sales of over 30 million, Columbia/Legacy assembled Forty Years: The Artistry Of Tony Bennett. The four-CD boxed set, released in 1991, chronicles the singer's stellar recording career and documents his growth as an artist inspiring Time magazine to call the collection "... the essence of why CD boxed sets are a blessing."

Tony Bennett has also received an Emmy Award and a Cable Ace Award for his groundbreaking television special, "Live By Request...Tony Bennett" which featured a unique interactive format in which the viewing audience called in song requests to the performer live during the program, a concept created by Bennett that has become a regular special on the A&E network. Bennett has also authored two books, What My Heart Has Seen, a beautifully bound edition of his paintings published in 1996, and The Good Life, his heartfelt autobiography released in 1998.

Tony Bennett is a dedicated painter whose interest in art began as a child. He continues to paint every day, even while touring internationally. He has exhibited his work in galleries around the world and he has been chosen to be the official artist of the 2001 Kentucky Derby and has created two original paintings celebrating this historic event. The United Nations has commissioned him for two paintings, including one for their 50th anniversary. His original painting "Homage to Hockney" is on permanent display at the Butler Institute of American Art and the landmark National Arts Club in New York is home to his painting, "Boy on Sailboat, Sydney Bay."

Throughout his career, Tony Bennett has always put his heart and time into humanitarian concerns. He has raised millions of dollars for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation which established a research fund in his name. His original paintings each year grace the cover of the American Cancer Society's annual holiday greeting card, proceeds from which are earmarked for cancer research. He is active in environmental concerns and has performed at fundraisers for both the Walden Woods Foundation and the Save the Rainforest Foundation. The Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta bestowed upon him their "Salute to Greatness Award" for his efforts to fight discrimination. He conceived and spearheaded the effort to honor his great friend with the establishment of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts which opened its doors as a New York City public high school offering an extensive arts curriculum in September of 2001.

In the 1950's, thousands of screaming bobby-soxers surrounded the Paramount Theatre in New York, held back only by police barricades, to see their singing idol Tony Bennett. Today the children and grandchildren of those fans are enjoying the same experience. Perhaps what sums up Tony's legacy and longevity best was the observation The New York Times made in a review of "MTV Unplugged": "What accounts for the Bennett magic? Artistry certainly. The repertory is indeed classic.... But perhaps more important is his ability to convey a sense of joy, of utter satisfaction, in what he is doing."


 

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