He’s still got the world on a string

An interview with Tony Bennett

April 12, 2007

VERONA- He may have sung “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but Tony Bennett is a New York guy. “I live in New York City and I love it,” Bennett said.

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in August 1926 in Astoria, Queens, the son of a grocer father and seamstress mother, he would find his musical interest piqued at an early age; at just 10 years old, he sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge.

“My family was a very big inspiration,” he said. “We grew up in the Depression, and if anyone bought a record, since there wasn’t much money, it had to be something the whole family would like.”

He studied music and painting at the New York High School of Industrial Arts. At 16, he dropped out to support his family, which he did as a singing waiter.

“I have been very fortunate to be able to do the things I love and be able to make a living at it. But I have to say the job as a singing
waiter was such fun that I would have been happy to have continued doing that for a long time.”

Drafted in 1944, he was involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at Landsberg, Germany. He sang with the Army band until his discharge in 1946. He studied singing at the American Theatre Wing thanks to the GI Bill and waited tables at various New York restaurants.

In 1949, he was invited on tour by Bob Hope (Hope suggested the name Tony Bennett), and in 1950, recorded his first hit, “Because of You.”

Despite the fluctuations in the music industry over the years, Bennett has stayed true to his style, fondly remembering the words of a
fellow musician, Count Basie.

“There was a point when demographics took over the industry,” Bennett said, “and I was being pressured to sing different kinds of songs, and Count Basie and I were discussing this and he said to me, ‘Why change an apple?’

“From that point on, I just kept singing the songs of the Great American Songbook, which I feel is one of the greatest cultural treasures this country has ever given to the world.”

His latest album, “Duets,” teams Bennett and his catalog with a star-studded collection of musical talent.

“At first I was a bit apprehensive about it, but when he (son Danny, his manager) read me the list of performers who had agreed to participate-Streisand, McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Sting- I was just amazed.”

So while there’s usually a mike in his hand, Bennett holds a paint brush nearly as often. His work, done under the name Anthony Benedetto, can be seen at www.benedettoarts.com.

But it’s Tony Bennett who will take the stage at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino Tuesday.

“Being on the road for so many years has given me a great education,” he said. “… after all this time I have learned that we are all human, living on this planet together.”