Just three weeks shy of his 91st birthday, legendary singer Tony Bennett graced the Hollywood Bowl for two nights of stylish entertainment. After talk show host Tavis Smiley warmed up the audience, Bennett, who practices scales every day to keep his voice limber, came onstage with a spring in his step.
From his first note, Bennett set a rigorous pace, performing 22 songs without stop. For some of the tunes, Bennett was accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. The Phil had opened the evening with the traditional “Star Spangled Banner” followed by two classical pieces from Verdi and three by composer Henry Mancini including “Charade” and “Moon River,” both from Audrey Hepburn films.
Bennett also brought along his own quartet. Led by pianist, and Bennett’s musical director, Billy Stritch, the combo backed the singer on a variety of Great American Songbook standards and hits from his almost 70 year career, including “One for My Baby,” “For Once in My Life,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and a medley of Bennett’s early hits including “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.”
At various times during the sets with the quartet, the musicians performed solos. Bennett generously highlighted their talents, placing his microphone to make sure the audience didn’t miss one shining note. Before joining Bennett in October 2016, Stritch worked with performers Linda Lavin, Christine Ebersole, and showbiz legend Liza Minelli. Guitarist Gray Sargent and bassist Marshall Wood previously worked together as members of the Gray Sargent trio. Drummer Harold Jones, Count Basie’s favorite percussionist, has a long resume of performing alongside jazz greats including Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and Natalie Cole.
During Bennett’s sets with his quartet, conductor Dudamel perched nearby, observing Bennett in action. Dudamel and the audience had a special treat in store when Bennett was joined onstage by Lady Gaga. The crowd went wild as she strode out in a beaded black gown. Cell phones were capturing every second while Bennett and Lady G performed two of their popular duets, Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady is a Tramp.” Between verses, Bennett and Lady Gaga danced together, obviously enjoying each other’s company and respecting each other’s talent.
Bennett wrapped up the evening with his signature “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Sensing the audience still wanted more, he followed up with Gershwin’s “Who Cares?” Then, after blowing kisses and sending hugs to the audience, Bennett tried to make his exit, only to be called back twice by audience cheers. Bennett brought Dudamel over, including him in the applause.
The audience’s love for Bennett and his genuine affection for them was clearly evident throughout the evening. As Smiley noted, Bennett displayed his “heart full of grace” during each of his memorable songs.