When Shirley Horn, current queen of jazz singers, visited the Snowbird Jazz Festival last summer, I asked her opinion of Tony Bennett. She melted on the spot.
"He's so full of feeling. He's just a `love bug,' " she said.Well, the Love Bug is back; this time with a CD full of 24 Frank Sinatra signature pieces. And showing a keen sense of his personal strengths, Bennett has sidestepped the big production num-bers ("My Way," "New York, New York") and opts for all those blues in the night - all those smoky tunes Sinatra sold at quarter-to-three in clubs called "Rick's" or "Johnny's."
If Sinatra sang Bennett, he'd likely swing half of the man's ballads, giving them an edgy intimacy. But Bennett doing Sinatra means an album of emoting and romance. As Horn says, this is a man who croons love's tune for people with stars in their eyes and hearts on their sleeves.
If you're just getting interested in "cool jazz" vocals (a genre tossed off as "easy listening" on many charts), there's no way to compare what Bennett does with what, say, Garth Brooks does in one review, but here's a shot.
Country and rock singers sing to the beat, laying a dominant emotion over the lyric. It might be regret, anger, love or longing, but the song is usually driven by the drums and a single sentiment. With Bennett, songs come apart in his hands and are molded into something new. He'll slow down a lazy line, strut through a sassy one. And the lyric is a color wheel of feeling, moving from remorse, to ire, to reflection to resolve in the space of a few phrases.
For that, you need great songs. And these are. The Ralph Sharon Trio sets them off with heavy brush rhythms, walking bass and a piano accompaniment that works in counterpoint to Bennett's voice - actually commenting on it at times. "The Lady Is a Tramp" (with a capella vocals broken up by jazz interludes), a Tropicana-ready rendition of "Night and Day," a definite reading of "You Go to My Head" and "Time After Time," ahere's-my-heart-kill-me take on "I'll Be Seeing You" and a subtle knock-off of the Chairman himself on "Indian Summer" have made this one of the most cherished CDs in my collection.
Needless to say, Bennett does the songs straight up - complete with the pensive intros and plenty of finishes on major sixth and major seventh chords. And by the time you've worked your way through them all to the final cut, you're ready to start again. Like the eternal painting of Bennett's beloved Golden Gate Bridge, the process goes on and on. And in the end listeners will probably find themselves sending one of Bennett's own lyrics back at him: "In this world of over-rated pleasures, of under-rated treasures, I'm glad there's you."