"Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business, the best exponent of a song," Frank Sinatra once said. "He's the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more. There's a feeling in back of it."
Tony Bennett began his career as a singing waiter in his Queens, NY neighborhood. He served in WWII as part of "the greatest generation" and returned home to his music. Two enduring career hallmarkshis inexhaustible capacity for work and impeccable taste in materialwere evident early, and he was signed by Columbia Records. He teamed with pianist and arranger Ralph Sharon in 1956; with few exceptions, most notably The Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album and several sets with Count Basie, Sharon has been his pianist and accompanist ever since.
Bennett's relationship with Jazz is simultaneously tangential and deep. He has professed among his influences the sheer sound of saxophonists Lester Young and Stan Getz, the structure and phrasing of pianist Art Tatum, Basie's sense of swing, and the unmistakable genius of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.
In the booklet for the encyclopedic box set Forty Years: The Artistry of Tony Bennett, Leonard Feather wrote, "If there is one emotion at which Tony Bennett is arguably the most graceful of all exponents, it is nostalgia." Thus Bennett enjoyed a 1990s career renaissance largely through his series of tribute albumsPerfectly Frank for Sinatra, Tony Bennett on Holiday for songstress Billie, and his homage to Ella, Sarah, Carmen, Billie and others on Here's To The Ladiesall of which were at least tangentially Jazz related.
Few if any artists have perpetuated and dignified the American popular songbook more. Here are some of his more Jazz-y sets.
Tony Bennett: Jazz An early compilation where "Green Dolphin Street," his duet with Sharon on "I'm Thru With Love," or "Out of This World" with Mssrs. Getz (Stan), Carter (Ron), Hancock (Herbie), and Jones (Elvin), are the perfect answer to "Is he a Jazz singer"?
Tony Bennett: The Beat of My Heart Bennett sings to a different drum: A concept album of inventive arrangements that feature mainly drummers and percussionists (among them Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Jo Jones, Candido and Sabu). Classic pop scored a new way, and stone beat crazy.
Tony Bennett: Basie Swings, Bennett Sings (Roulette) The better half of Bennett's two sets with Basie's band (the Count guests on only two tracks), guided like a stylish Lincoln Continental through stomps and ballads by a relaxed yet powerful Bennett. The good type of big band vocal swing.
Tony Bennett: I Left My Heart In San Francisco Bennett struck the pop motherlode with this title track, which won three Grammy Awards (for Best Arrangement, Male Vocal Performance, and Record of the Year). Popular but without sacrificing its musical integrity - sort of like his entire career.
Tony Bennett: The Movie Song Album To this point, Bennett included a show tune on nearly every releasewhy not an entire album? With Tommy Flanagan and Zoot Sims among the players, and arrangers Mandel, Hefti, and Quincy Jones, he brightens "The Shadow of Your Smile" and more.
Tony Bennett: The Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album An intimate Jazz masterpiecearticulate, intelligent and perfect for those wee small hours at any time of day. Bennett truly shares the spotlight to afford pianist Evans equal room; the mutual warmth between these two great balladeers is palpable.
Tony Bennett: The Art of Excellence After years of silence, the big payback! Standards old ("I Got Lost In Her Arms") and new ("How Do You Keep the Music Playing?"), new songs ("Why Do People Fall in Love?") plus a bluesy romp with Brother Ray Charles. An impeccable, classy return.
Tony Bennett: Bennett / Berlin Coinciding with the centennial of the birth of the great songwriter, this intimate celebration features the Sharon Trio with guests Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, and George Benson. Simply a classic that will still sound wonderful as time goes by.
Tony Bennett: Astoria: Portrait of the Artist A soft, retrospective homecoming named for his old neighborhood, with the brilliant new title "When Do The Bells Ring For Me," "Body and Soul" and other classics, plus a re-recording of his first Columbia session, "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams."
Tony Bennett: MTV Unplugged A truly deserving Album of the Year Grammy Award winner, this live-in-the-studio valentine sent from one pop generation with love to another includes a duet with Elvis Costello and an exquisitely sparkling "Moonglow" with k. d. lang.