O.C. JAZZ REVIEW : Still Flying to Moon : Tony Bennett Brings His In-Person Magic to Cerritos Center


Is there anyone who’s seen just a little too much of Tony Bennett this year? It seems the singer has made appearances on almost every music awards show you can think of, while his recent albums continue to hang near the top of the jazz charts.

He sang in May to a crowd of 6,000 members of the American Assn. of Retired Persons at the Anaheim Convention Center--about the same time that he could be seen crooning with Elvis Costello and k.d. lang on MTV.

Indeed, one could have enjoyed him Saturday night without attending his concert at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (where he also sang Friday) as KCET-TV simultaneously was carrying his special, “Tony Bennett Live: Watch What Happens.” So why bother to get off the couch?


Simple reason: No matter how engaging he may be on the TV screen, the strength of Bennett’s singing and the enthusiasm he carries for his music gain almost magical proportions when he is heard in person.

His show here varied only slightly from those other recent performances, right down to the same between-song gags he’s been pulling for the last few years (he announces that the Japanese have a new national anthem, and then says that instead of singing “I’ll Take Manhattan,” he’ll do “We’ll Sell Manhattan”). But we don’t go to Tony Bennett concerts to hear him sing new material. We go to hear “Fly Me to the Moon,” “San Francisco” and “The Man I Love.”

And despite its predictability, Saturday’s show was one of his best in recent memory. His voice was in particularly fine shape and he was especially playful in his rhythmic delivery. His sustained tones did not wander off key as they had in Anaheim, and he seemed to have the wind of a long distance runner.

In fact, during the instrumental break in an up-tempo version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” he did run in place, dancing at a furious pace while swinging to and fro to face all sides of the house. Despite the vigorous workout, Bennett--hardly looking winded--gave the tune his customary big-time ending.


Perhaps the most significant difference this time, though, was his willingness to close tunes in understated style, instead of ending them all in the strong, sustained way that has been one of his trademarks. His tones were unusually soft during “A Foggy Day in London Town,” and he worked quietly against bassist Douglas Richardson’s walk on “Just a Lucky So-and-So.” As usual, he sang a pair of tunes without amplification, sending his voice to the rafters, modestly crediting the room and its architect for the feat.

Another good reason to catch Bennett live is his supporting trio, led by pianist Ralph Sharon. The visual excitement of drummer Clayton Cameron juggling his brushes while doing a double-time on a single snare (as he did Bennett’s MTV “Unplugged” special) is heightened in person, while the sound of Richardson’s bass is decidedly stronger and more woody.


To his credit, Bennett gives each of these musicians his due, applauding the work right along with the audience. He often works as a cheerleader, not only for the guys in the band but for his own performances, cuing the audience’s applause with sweeping arm gestures and wiggles of his fingers that seem to say “give it to me.”

But he also seeks applause for the composers and lyricists, both living and dead, whose material he has embraced for some 40 years. Seeing Tony Bennett is an education in what he calls “The Great American Songbook,” the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and others, including contemporary artists including Charles DeForest, from whom he has taken his showstopper, “When Do the Bells Ring for Me.”

And that may be his biggest contribution to the popular song, a form once endangered by rock and its various offshoots: He carries it to a new generation while making it breathe with life. As the old song goes, Tony Bennett “is here to stay.”