Tony Bennett: Legendary Performer and …Painter?

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With a stunning career spanning over six decades, Tony Bennett is known to and beloved by millions as a first-rate singer and showman. But as editor Chad Merchant discovered in this interview, the legendary performer is also Anthony Benedetto the accomplished painter, as well.

It isn’t every day you get to lob a few questions at a living legend. Tony Bennett has been working at and perfecting his craft since 1949, notching his first number one hit in 1951. Over 60 years later, he’s still at it, and he’ll be coming to Malaysia soon. I asked him if this was his first time here and got a surprising answer. “It has been a very long time since I have performed in the region,” Mr Bennett began, “but it is a magnificent area and I look forward to having time to paint some of the beautiful natural surroundings while I am there.”

Painting? That’s right. Turns out Mr Bennett – going by his birth name of Anthony Benedetto when wielding a brush instead of a microphone – is a serious and accomplished painter, his works having been exhibited in galleries worldwide and even garnering commissions from the United Nations. Three of his paintings are part of the US Smithsonian Museum’s permanent collections, including his portrait of his friend Duke Ellington that became part of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection in 2009.

So he’ll paint while he’s in KL for his one-night-only performance (as he almost always does when he’s on tour), but I wanted to know more about the singer. I asked him specifically about his unexpected surge in popularity in the mid-1990s as he was embraced by a new, young generation. “Actually, this year marks 20 years since I appeared on the MTV Awards and that new generation of listeners was introduced to the Great American Songbook. My son Danny has been my manager for over 30 years and he told me to check out MTV, which I did, and I liked the fact that each music video was like a ‘mini-movie’ telling the story of the song. So Danny approached MTV and it all started from there.” Mr Bennett continued, “I was very pleased, as my premise has always been to play to the whole family and not just to one demographic. I like the fact that at my shows you have many generations of people in the audience.”

Hearing this, I asked him how he manages to stay fresh and engage with his audiences after so many years in the business. Mr Bennett explained that it’s all down to one simple thing: “I happen to love what I do and I still have a passion for singing. I also have gravitated to performing with jazz musicians from the very start of my career and I have a magnificent quartet that tour with me and jazz musicians love to keep things spontaneous. They never play the same song the same way twice and that keeps things very fresh and ‘live,’ which is the way I like to perform.”

Indeed, with so many decades in the business and a tour docket that has taken him all over the world, I wondered if there were any venues that stood out in his mind. Mr Bennett couldn’t come up with just one, but noted that he definitely had a preference for the type of venue. “I love a good concert hall with acoustics that allow you to hit the back of the house without even using a microphone… that’s what I look for when I perform. Playing at stadiums is fine for many artists, but I like the art of intimate singing that Bing Crosby invented and Frank Sinatra perfected, so you need a good acoustical concert hall to be able to perform that way.”

I mentioned to Mr Bennett that in my own time here in Malaysia, I’ve noticed that more and more “big names” are coming to KL to perform, so asked him what he thought of his name being added to the growing list of notable performers in the Malaysian capital. He smiled and said, “I was honored to be asked to perform in Malaysia and this is actually my first tour of Asia and Southeast Asia in quite some time, so I am truly looking forward to performing in Kuala Lumpur.”

Though he turns 87 this August, the indefatigable Tony Bennett has no intention of retiring. “If you study the masters – Picasso, Jack Benny, Fred Astaire – right up to the day they died, they were performing. If you are creative, you get busier as you get older!”



Tony Bennett will be performing on Monday, 9 September at 8:30pm at the Plenary Hall, KL Convention Centre for a 90-minute, one-night-only concert experience presented by PR Worldwide. For more information, call 03.7493 3010 or log on to www. prworldwidelive.com.


Source: The Expat August 2013

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