Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Tony Bennett charms audience

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “I've been singing for 50 years,” Tony Bennett told a large Riverbend crowd Sunday night. “And I hope to sing for 50 more.”

        Few people seem to love what they're doing more the pop crooner, whose tanned face is permanently creased into a grin. At 74, he's something of a phenomenon; the singer who once made bobby-soxers swoon is now hot with the MTV generation.

        It has everything to with charm — and style. On Sunday, he charmed young and old with a 90-minute journey through the American songbook that made him famous. But best of all, he made it personal. When he introduced tunes sung by Frank Sinatra or written by Duke Ellington, it was done with the affection of someone who had known and worked with them.

        “I'm doing this whole show for Rosie — that's my sister,” he told the crowd, referring to longtime pal and local icon Rosemary Clooney. That was the intro for “Over the Rainbow,” a tune that caused a hush to come over Riverbend, as he sang to the lush pianism of his longtime musical director Ralph Sharon.

        The Ralph Sharon Quartet backed Mr. Bennett, along with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, in a show that was as fine-tuned as a baby grand. Mr. Sharon worked seamlessly with the singer, as he hunched over his piano and rippled through “Autumn Leaves” or Gershwin's “S'Wonderful.” Drummer Clayton Cameron had the crowd cheering as he performed amazing feats in “Caravan” and Ellington's “It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing.”

        If Mr. Bennett's voice isn't quite what it once was, he still possesses impressive range, intonation, and that all-important quality: style. In his 1962 hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” he showed that he is still the master of making every word count. Charlie Chaplin's “Smile” was from the heart, made sweeter with a violin solo by concertmaster Timothy Lees.

        He was suave and jazzy. “Steppin' Out,” the tune that helped him make his '90s comeback, was “for the MTV crowd.” He started it whisper-voiced, with bass player Paul Langosch. Gershwin's “I Got Rhythm” was an upbeat contrast, with a high scat flourish at the end, and virtuoso riffs from his quartet.

        Dapper in a blue suit, Mr. Bennett strolled the stage, basked in an adoring audience, and crooned through the hit parade: “All of Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Mood Indigo” and “A Foggy Day.” The evening's only encore came early: a reprise of a verse from a swinging “I Wanna Be Around.”

        He ended with a soulful “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.” Then it was over, all too soon.

        The Pops, led by John Morris Russell, opened for Mr. Bennett with a Gershwin medley and An American in Paris.


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