Center Presents: Michael Feinstein in “Because Of You: My Tribute to Tony Bennett” featuring the Carnegie Hall Big Band

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The Palladium // Friday, May 17, 8 p.m. ET

Supported by the Carnegie Hall Big Band, Michael Feinstein pays a heartfelt tribute to the legendary Tony Bennett, bringing his iconic songs to life in a symphony of sound. The performance will feature hits such as “Because of You,” “Rags to Riches,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Stranger in Paradise” and many more. Feinstein’s dynamic interpretations, coupled with the grandeur of the big band music, will create an unforgettable night that honors Bennett’s legacy in all its glory. Feinstein’s close friendship with Bennett adds a profound layer to this tribute, as their camaraderie brings authenticity and depth to each note performed.

Center Presents Michael Feinstein

*This show is not affiliated with the Tony Bennett Estate.

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April 2024

Janelle Morrison: Would you mind sharing your first memories of the late Tony Bennett and how your friendship began?

Michael Feinstein: I knew the work of Tony long before we met, and people used to say that my father resembled Tony because my father had a Mediterranean complexion and so did Tony. They had some similar facial features, and so my earliest memories are of hearing people say to my dad, “You know, you kind of look like Tony Bennett.”

The first records I discovered by Tony were some of the early pop things, which I didn’t find very interesting, but as I started to learn about American popular songs, singers, and such, I discovered Tony’s later work where he would dive deeply into the catalogs of the great songwriters. He made a lot of records of songs that would otherwise not have been recorded at all were it not for his taste and keen ability to find a good song.

We met in 1983. Rosemary Clooney was doing a benefit for an organization she co-founded for people with brain injuries because her sister had died of a brain aneurysm. She asked Tony if he would be part of this gala, and so it was in a theater in Long Beach where I first met Tony.

Center Presents Michael Feinstein
Singing legend Tony Bennett performs at the Palladium and afterwards was presented a trophy recognizing his induction into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (Photo: D. Todd Moore)

JM: You shared that Mr. Bennett and Ms. Clooney were on a TV show called “Songs for Sale” [1950-1952]. Tell us more about that.

MF: When Tony was first starting out in the business, he was on a live television show [“Songs for Sale”], and they would sing songs that people had submitted, and then judges would vote which was the best song and there would be a prize. So, they would sing all of these cockamamie songs, most of which were not very good, but they were two greatly gifted artists who would make [the songs] sound much better than they were. Tony had said that Rosemary was like a sister to him, and so it was nice to be introduced to him by her.

I remember offering Tony some unknown Gershwin songs because he had done a first recording of a Gershwin song in the ’60s that had been previously unpublished. Tony was always interested in learning as much as he could about the outputs of various songwriters. He always wanted to hear something [songs] he didn’t know.

When I went to New York, Tony took me out on the town to a restaurant to hear a pianist that he thought was wonderful, and he acquainted me with musical spots that he thought I might enjoy and introduced me to people.

He was very generous. He sent me a box of hard-to-find throat lozenges that he would buy in England and bring back because they had some sort of ingredient that was banned here. I don’t think it was anything nefarious, but whatever it was, you couldn’t get [the lozenges] here. So, I was very touched that he sent me a box of these lozenges. And he and Susan would come to dinner when I had a townhouse in NYC. So, we became, happily, friends.

JM: What is one song performed by Mr. Bennett that when you sing it, you connect with it the most, and it takes you back to those precious memories and remarkable years?

MF: Well, two songs come to mind. “If I Ruled the World,” a song from a British musical called “Pickwick.” I think that, as much as any song, reflects his philosophy of life. He was a lifelong pacifist after fighting in the Second World War. He saw and experienced such horrors and terrible inhumanity that for the rest of his life, he wanted to espouse peace and unity through his music and his art, both vocal and visual. There is an idyllic lyric in that song about how we would all be friends and we would all connect with light and love. I sense the purest part of Tony when I sing that song.

Singing legend Tony Bennett performs at the Palladium and afterwards was presented a trophy recognizing his induction into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (Photo: D. Todd Moore)

The other song that sprung to mind is a song called “Once Upon a Time” that was from the musical “All American.” Tony did a beautiful recording of that song, and I just sit at the piano accompanying myself. It’s a song of yearning and nostalgia, or a time past when one was young and believed anything was possible. “Once Upon a Time” was released on a single 45, and it was the A side of that record. “I Left My Heart in San Fransisco” was on the B side. That’s one of those examples of the B side becoming the hit song.

JM: Adding to what will already be a magical and memorable night in remembrance of Mr. Bennett is the fact that you will be performing with the Carnegie Hall Big Band. For those that don’t already know, what is your relationship with this band?

MF: The Carnegie Hall Big Band was something that I hatched with Terrence, my husband. And it was an idea to bring back and to perpetuate the sound of the big bands. A 17-piece band is an extraordinary experience to hear; the brilliance of the musicians, the musical arrangements, the variety and color and the excitement that a great big band brings is unbeatable. Especially when younger people hear live bands … it’s a transporting experience. Most people under the age of perhaps even 30 may not have ever heard music that is not in a compressed file, which means they’re not hearing the full fidelity of something. To hear live music is a fundamentally different experience because of the acoustics and the energy of a live performer.

I know Tony always treasured his relationships with the great bands, Count Basie being his favorite, and [Duke] Ellington and so many others that he worked with over the years. [The big band] seemed to be a sensible component to bring to the Tony Bennett tribute because the musicians, arrangers, the arrangements, songs and songwriters were always important to him. What better way to present this music than with a big band similar to the groups that Tony worked with through the years?