Tony Bennett turns 85 later this year, but he´s more interested in being on the road than being in a rocking chair. The veteran singer performs at the Wharton Center on Oct. 28; he was there in 1985 and 2001.
Bennett consented to an email interview last week to discuss his career and his upcoming show at the Wharton Center.
How much do you tour these days?
These days I like to perform about six nights a month on average, but sometimes it´s more than that — I feel truly blessed because I have been able to make a living doing the two things I love most — singing and painting. If someone asks me if I will retire, I say, "Retire to what? I am doing what I love right now."
What should we expect in the Wharton Center show?
I am fortunate to have a magnificent jazz quartet who perform with me on the road and I have loved jazz all my life and have gravitated to working with jazz musicians over the years.
I like this approach because jazz players are spontaneous and they always play things a bit differently every night and I like that — it keeps the performances very much in the moment and we have a proper involvement on stage that allows us to change things around, surprise each other — it´s very immediate.
The story is that after serving in World War II, you broke into show business with the help of Pearl Bailey and Bob Hope. How did that come about?
I know — can you believe that! It sounds like something out of a movie script, but I had gotten a slot on Pearl Bailey´s revue at the Greenwich Inn in N.Y., and Bob Hope came to see me perform and he got a kick out of it as I was the only white guy on the stage!
After the show, he came over and asked me to go on the road with him and he took me uptown to the Paramount Theater in N.Y. Before the show, he asked me backstage what my name was again, and I said "Joe Bari," and he said, "That sounds like a phony stage name — what´s your real name?" I told him, "Anthony Dominick Benedetto," and he said that was too long for the marquee and said, "Let´s Americanize it and call you ´Tony Bennett.´" So that was how Bob Hope introduced me onto the stage at the Paramount and it was the first time I ever heard the name "Tony Bennett!"
So many stars seem to rise, peak and then slip away in the space of a few years. What´s been the secret of your amazing longevity as a performer?
I think if you have a passion for what you do — no matter what it is — that will always communicate and will enable you to maintain and keep going at it. As a singer, I have really tried to stay in shape, stay healthy and I still love performing for the public.
Sometimes I think it´s hard to remember when you are on stage that you are there to entertain the audience — they work hard, they spend money to see a show, they have to get babysitters — and as a performer you really have to respect that and make sure that at the end of the night they walk away and feel good. Hopefully, they have forgotten their own problems for a few hours — I have always felt being an entertainer is a very honorable profession in that respect.
You´ve won Grammys for your collaborations with Stevie Wonder and k.d. lang. Who else would you like to work with?
Well, as it turns out to celebrate my 85th birthday this year we are working on a "Duets II" CD right now that follows up the "Duets" CD we did for my 80th birthday. I am having a great time working with some wonderful artists — Amy Winehouse, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Josh Groban, John Mayer. I just recorded with Queen Latifah and I love the ´Duets´ projects. For me, it´s nice to record with these artists — many of them don´t normally record live with the band in the studio as it happens, like I do — and it shows them another way to approach recording. In fact, many of them go back and record their next albums the same way!