Tony Bennett’s Wonderful World Live in San Francisco

Tony Bennett’s Wonderful World Live in San Francisco

Directed by Lawrence Jordan

Columbia Music Video

Tony Bennett is like a statue to American music.

On Monday, September 16, 2002, Bennett recorded a performance at the fabulous Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The evening collected Bennett’s best-known songs, including, of course, his signature piece, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Bennett, 76 at the time of this recording, still sings with stunning verve, more so in this writer’s opinion than Frank Sinatra did at the same age. I’m no expert, but in many ways I prefer the wizened yet undeniably vital instrument Bennett’s voice has become in his 70s to the more “comfortable” vocals of his 30s. In addition, Bennett pulled off the hard-to-believe trick of scoring a hit with “the MTV crowd” a few years ago without compromising his musical principles. This is more than Sinatra did — compare Bennett’s “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” included here, to the unfortunate twosome of Sinatra and Bono croaking “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

The Roman-nosed vocalist gives his leisurely readings from the “Great American Songbook,” and one is hit with the realization that he is the last of his breed. No less an authority than Sinatra himself sung Bennett’s praises, and one likes to think “The Chairman” would be pleased at his friend’s status as the Last Man Standing.

For all this, Bennett’s onstage persona is humble yet exuberant, he accepts the crowd’s applause as though it is for his musicians and his material as much as for himself.

And some of it is. His accompanists, The Sprezzatura Quartet (that word, a note on the DVD jacket informs us, means the Art of Effortless Mastery), rightfully earn their share of the applause. Under the direction of pianist Lee Musiker, who contributes a near-classical solo to “For Once in My Life,” they feature drummer Clayton Cameron, guitarist Gray Sargent, and Paul Langosch on bass. Cameron shines with an amazing solo on “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.” Sargent’s streamlined playing sets the pace in a beautiful duet with Bennett on “Fly Me to the Moon” and takes flight itself in a solo on “The Good Life.”

Midway through the set k.d. lang, one of the most delightful of the musicians following in Bennett and Sinatra’s footsteps, joins Bennett onstage. The apparent affection between the two and the blending of their voices live makes this an inspired pairing. They duet on three songs from their recently released album, a tribute to Louis Armstrong. Quite aside from the inarguable quality of her voice, lang is adorable here. Kvelling to be singing with Bennett, she treats him with the respect due a beloved father, and in turn, he sings with her like a proud poppa.

At least three-quarters of the songs performed should be familiar to those who are at all knowledgeable about American music, many of them intimately so. But a great thing about such masters as Gershwin, Hammerstein and Coleman, all represented here, is that unless you’ve made a serious, longtime study of their work there are always surprises to be discovered. For me, this set, it was the Gershwin’s “Who Cares,” a song from Of Thee I Sing I had somehow missed.

Tony Bennett has already had one of the most distinct, long-lived and successful careers in music, and this DVD shows him to still be in there pushing. It is eminently worthwhile for anyone interested in the art of singing or American songwriting. Not to end this review on a morbid note, but it is also the kind of thing we will be even gladder to have around when Tony Bennett is not — far may that day be.

PS: Besides the concert, this DVD features a gallery of Bennett’s charming paintings of San Francisco, a brief interview with he and lang, and footage of a recent appearance at Candlestick Park.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Sweet Crude
    Sweet Crude

    Créatures (Rhyme and Reason). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Gregg Allman, RIP
    Gregg Allman, RIP

    Michelle Wilson gives tribute to the voice of an angel. Gregg Allman, RIP.

  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
    Preservation Hall Jazz Band

    So It Is (Legacy). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • From Montenegro to Moldova: The Best of SEEFest 2017
    From Montenegro to Moldova: The Best of SEEFest 2017

    For the twelfth year, the South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) in Los Angeles showcased an impressive lineup of new features and shorts. Lily and Generoso Fierro provide a festival wrap up and their picks for the films that you cannot miss.

  • Justin Townes Earle
    Justin Townes Earle

    Kids In The Street (New West Records). Review by James Mann.

  • Christian Scott
    Christian Scott

    Rebel Ruler (Ropeadope / Stretch Music). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Kivanç Sezer
    Kivanç Sezer

    Turkish director Kivanç Sezer’s powerful debut feature, My Father’s Wings, puts the spotlight on the workplace safety crisis that is currently taking place in his homeland. Lily and Generoso Fierro spoke with Sezer at SEEFest 2017 about his film and his need to draw attention to this issue.

  • Temples

    Supporting their just-released sophomore record, UK synth-pop poster boys, Temples, attracted an SRO crowd to one of Orlando’s premier nightspots.

  • Rat Film
    Rat Film

    Baltimore. Rats. A match made in Maryland.

  • Bishop Briggs
    Bishop Briggs

    Bishop Briggs brings a stacked bill of up and comers to Orlando for a sold-out party at The Social. Jen Cray joins in the fun.

From the Archives