Thursday, June 3, 2021

Tony Bennett's career: success, setbacks, Alzheimer's in Covid times

Singer Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga, on their "Cheek to Cheek" world tour, photographed during a New Year's Eve concert in 2014. Bennett's memory had not yet begun to fail him and when it did a year later, his concerts kept him sharp and engaged. He continues to rehearse twice weekly despite Alzheimer's. --Bruce Keller photo

 DESPITE ALZHEIMER'S, EACH DAY IS A GIFT TO LEGENDARY SINGER

Some day, when I'm awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga jazz it up on stage in "The Lady
Is a Tramp," in a 2015 concert. The singer still rehearses.

And the way you look tonight...
Jerome Kern


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

WE'VE HAD MANY magical nights in our life. Those "pinch yourself" times when we float through the evening in a fog of hold-handing contentment. A play. A concert. Celebration. To life!
New Year's Eve, 2014, goes to the top of our "hit parade" list.
Tony and wife Susan
stroll each day.
We were in Las Vegas to see  Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Securing the tickets -- the most we've ever paid for any performance anywhere -- was like participating in a feeding frenzy. I was poised at the computer when the show went on sale one fall morning at 6 a.m. The concert sold out in 11 minutes and my shaky hands were rewarded with a pair of second-row orchestra center seats.
THE SHOW was spectacular, 90 minutes of non-stop, first-rate wonder.
Tony Bennett at his last concert before Covid
 cancelled the rest of his tour, March 2020.
Only years later did we learn he began to experience memory lapses the next year. We saw him several times since that memorable New Year's Eve. His shows were flawless, introductions of his band precise and unhesitating. That's because he works at his memory, despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He rehearses twice a week, takes daily walks with wife Susan and has not ruled out another concert when the pandemic eases. 
His family, Gaga, his band and others in his circle knew about the diagnosis and a few weeks ago the public knew, through his sharing of his condition with the national AARP magazine. 
 WE NOTICED Gaga's loving touches on stage, in the three concerts with the two of them. She was spirited but careful in their dance sequences. Their affection for one another showed as they twirled about the stage.  
Tony Bennett began painting decades ago, and
still paints in his Manhattan studio. This photo
is a decade-plus old, but the lower one is current.
He was in top form, riding high on the success of the pair's "Cheek to Cheek" album.  The two met ten years ago in 2011 when Gaga was still in her 20s, a 60-year age spread. Now Bennett is 94 and Gaga turned 35 in March. Their meeting was at a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation, and Bennett approached Gaga after her performance, to compliment her jazzy, bluesy style. He compares her to the great female vocalists of his early career -- Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney and considers her a natural born jazz singer.
Famous for collaborations, he asked if she wanted to record a jazz duet album and the rest is history. Their Grammy winning "Cheek to Cheek" launched a world tour and their friendship remains solid. Gaga says she's still "getting over" Bennett's compliments, and his seeking her out as a partner.
WE FOLLOWED the tour to two other cities and still listen to our "Cheek to Cheek" CD and its delightful tunes, all of which they sang in concert. "I Won't Dance," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "It Don't Mean a Thing" are our favorites, besides the title song.
A recent photo of Tony Bennett in his New York
home.  He paints and sings to combat his illness.
FRIENDS SAY the pandemic has been difficult for him, but he still paints and sings a set twice a week. They confirm that the cancellation of concerts and  absence of the life-enhancing stimuli of audience and fellow musicians has no doubt set him back.
Born in Queens, the acclaimed artist has lived in several cities but has come full circle back to the Big Apple where he and his wife, Susan Crow, live in a luxurious condo in Central Park West. 
Bennett continues to practice, rehearsing a 90-minute set twice a week with Lee Musiker, his longtime pianist. Although the grim circumstances of his illness and the pandemic have impacted Bennett's memory and ability to communicate, friends say his recollection of lyrics and melodies remains remarkable. The healing power of art and music!
 

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5 comments:

  1. This is a lovely piece. Pure and simple. Your joy in reviewing still shows and you are deeply missed in Montana!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Las Vegas Jazz LoversJune 3, 2021 at 6:45 PM

    We love Tony Bennett and remember their fabulous NY's Eve concert.....

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bennett BoostersJune 4, 2021 at 9:17 AM

    Huge Tony Bennett fans and had hoped to see him in concert one more time. We live in Jersey so will go if he sings a last "local" gig. THANK YOU. Sweet piece and great photos as always.

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  4. Canadian Jazz BuffsJune 4, 2021 at 12:02 PM

    Keller's concert photos superb as always. The ones of him aging so touching.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Baltimore Jazz BuffsJune 10, 2021 at 5:10 AM

    Jazz has been our lifeline since Covid. Have all Tony's records and love his partnership with Lady Gaga. Thank you for this lovely piece.

    ReplyDelete