April 2019 Writer \/\/ Janelle Morrison Photography \/\/ \/\/ Courtesy of Columbia Records, Kelsey Bennett, Kevin Mazur, Mark Seliger and Benedetto Family Archives In recognition of the Center for the Performing Arts\u2019 ability to draw in some of the world\u2019s highest caliber of musical talent, Carmel Monthly is proud to dedicate this issue\u2019s cover story to highlight and welcome back to Carmel, Indiana, one of America\u2019s most beloved icons, Tony Bennett. Bennett\u2019s May 8 performance will be his third at the Palladium since he first appeared on the world-renowned stage in 2014. Bennett will bring his \u201cI Left My Heart\u201d Tour to the Center, performing his latest chart-topping album. Bennett\u2019s 2014 collection of jazz standards with Lady Gaga, \u201cCheek to Cheek,\u201d made him the oldest artist ever to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart. Just last year, his signature song, \u201cI Left My Heart in San Francisco,\u201d was inducted into the National Recording Registry, and Bennett struck gold again with \u201cLove Is Here to Stay,\u201d a celebration of the Gershwins with longtime friend Diana Krall. The new album, which topped the Billboard Jazz Albums chart, was nominated for two 2019 Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Duo\/Group Performance. Bennett has received a total of 19 Grammy Awards, two of which were presented to him for his signature song, \u201cI Left My Heart in San Francisco.\u201d Millions of Bennett\u2019s records have sold globally, both platinum and gold, since his first string of Columbia singles that were released in the early 1950s, including such chart-toppers as \u201cBecause of You,\u201d \u201cRags to Riches\u201d and a remake of Hank Williams\u2019 \u201cCold, Cold Heart.\u201d Having 24 songs placed in the Top 40, Bennett is one of a handful of artists to have albums charting in every decade between the 1950s-1990s and in the first two decades of the 21st century. Mr. Bennett's 2012 Awards. (Photo by Kelsey Bennett) A champion of the virtues and values represented by the Great American Songbook, Bennett has introduced many songs into the Songbook that have since become standards for pop music. A Kennedy Center Honoree, an NEA Jazz Master, a recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song as well as the United Nations Humanitarian and Citizen of the World honors, Bennett celebrated his 92nd tour around the sun last August. As inarguably the most distinguished singer of the 20th and 21st centuries, Bennett\u2019s ability to bridge multiple generations has maintained the affection and respect of audiences of all ages for his unparalleled talent. In this exclusive, in-depth interview with Bennett, he shared a few of his most memorable experiences and influences throughout his life and career. I asked Bennett who his \u201cidols\u201d were and the artists that he studied and emulated as a youth, and as anticipated, he spoke of one of his greatest influencers, Frank Sinatra. \u201cI was one of the original \u2018bobby soxers\u2019 who flocked to the Paramount Theater to see Frank Sinatra, so he was very much an influence on me,\u201d Bennett shared. \u201cThroughout the years, he would support me and give me a boost. I remember going to him when I got my first TV special \u2013 it was a summer replacement series for \u201cThe Perry Como Show,\u201d but there was no budget for the show, so we had minimal sets, no budget for guest stars and I was nervous. I decided to seek out advice from Frank who was at the Paramount Theater, and I was warned he could be a bit tough, but I went backstage after the show and knocked on his dressing room door. He said, \u2018C\u2019mon in, kid,\u2019 and couldn\u2019t have been nicer to me. I told him what my concerns were, and he told me that it was \u2018a good thing that you\u2019re nervous because it shows you care, and the audience will pick up on that and will root for you.\u2019 I never forgot that, and I still get \u2018butterflies\u2019 before I go on stage. I think of Frank, and I know that it\u2019s when those butterflies go away that you need to start worrying.\u201d Photo Credit: Courtesy of Columbia Records (Tony Performing at Copa Cabana) Bennett\u2019s first TV appearance was on a show called \u201cSongs for Sale\u201d that he did with Rosemary Clooney. \u201cThe premise of it was they had amateur songwriters send in their songs, and then Rosemary and I would sing the songs on the show and one would get picked a winner,\u201d Bennett recalled. \u201cIt was a fun premise, but for Rosie and I, it got a bit complicated as back then, they had people holding cue cards with the song lyrics \u2013 no teleprompter like they have today. And the crew sometimes had a tendency to get a bit tipsy or would have fun with us, and they would hold the cue cards upside down. So, whenever that happened, Rosie and I would just make up our own lyrics. I think it taught me to be ready for anything when you are in a live performance and to be spontaneous and have fun with it.\u201d I asked Bennett where he was in his career at the genesis of the \u201cBecause of You\u201d album and how that album and song\u2019s release and success changed the trajectory of his career. \u201cWell, to quote another song title of mine, it came \u2018just in time,\u2019 he said. \u201cMy first single for Columbia when I signed in 1950 was \u2018Boulevard of Broken Dreams,\u2019 and it was a semi-hit at the time, but I had released a few other singles that didn\u2019t take off. So, by 1951, the record label was telling me that I needed another hit, or they may drop me from the label, which is the same pressure that young artists starting out today have to contend with as well. I had a \u2018do or die\u2019 recording session with Percy Faith set up, and we talked about the singles that I had put out that didn\u2019t connect, and they were all very dramatic. Percy handed me the music for \u2018Because of You\u2019 and said, \u2018Let\u2019s do this one but take it easier and don\u2019t push for the drama. Just be more natural.\u2019\u201d Bennett continued, \u201cWhen \u2018Because of You\u2019 came out, it didn\u2019t become an instant radio hit, so I was worried as this was my last shot, but within a few weeks, it started getting played on jukeboxes. Usually, it\u2019s the other way around and the songs were hits on the radio, and then the public would put their nickel in to hear it on a jukebox. Finally, it got popular on radio and was a #1 hit for 10 weeks. But it was really the public putting in those nickels into the jukebox that gave me the hit I needed to continue on recording, so I have never taken the public for granted ever since, and I sing for them always.\u201d A World War II veteran, Bennett served in the 63rd Infantry Division, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, participated in the liberation of a concentration camp and marched side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King. Tony Bennett is third from the left singing with Army quartet. (Photo courtesy of Benedetto Family Archives) \u201cBeing a foot soldier in WWII made me a pacifist, and I feel that violence is the lowest form of human behavior,\u201d Bennett stated. \u201cElla Fitzgerald was a dear friend, and she always had a simple but very deep way of putting things. She would often say to me, \u2018Tony, we\u2019re all here.\u2019 And that\u2019s the truth as we share this planet together as one human race, and our focus should be on supporting each other, not fighting and magnifying our differences as we have more in common than what separates us. So, I consider myself a humanist.\u201d When asked what Bennett\u2019s favorite decade was as an artist and which was the most challenging, he replied, \u201cThat\u2019s a very good question, and I don\u2019t really look back at the past too much as I like to keep learning and moving forward, but I think you find as you get older, it\u2019s the challenges that you have had in life that have taught you the most rather than the successes that have come easily. In the \u201870s, I was at a bit of a crossroads as I had decided to take a break from recording with Columbia Records, the label I had started with as they were pushing all the artists to sing rock songs. \u201cI went to England to live for a few years and, during that time, worked with Lena Horne who taught me everything there is to know about professionalism and giving all of yourself to the audience, no matter what was going on offstage. And it was also during that time that I made two records with the master jazz pianist Bill Evans, which to this day are recordings that fans and the critics say are their favorites. So, although at the time, leaving Columbia seemed like a setback, in the end, it was during that time that I had creative freedom that turned into opportunities that were life-changing for me and my career. As to the favorite decade, that is tough to say as I tend to like exactly where I am right now, but I have to say working with Lady Gaga over this past decade has been a lot of fun.\u201d Bennett and his wife, Susan, are dedicated advocates for the incorporation of arts in education. Together, they founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in New York City. \u201cWe are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Exploring the Arts nonprofit that my wife Susan and I created to support arts education as at that time we, like so many parents, were seeing the demise of quality arts education in the public school curriculum,\u201d Bennett explained. \u201cSo, our first mission was to build a state-of-the-art high school, and we got support from the Department of Education and private donors. We founded Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, and its permanent home is in my hometown of Astoria, so that is a wonderful feeling to give back to the community.\u201d NEW YORK, NY: Music legend Tony Bennett (L) and Susan Crow arrive for his 90th birthday celebration at the at The Rainbow Room on August 3, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy\/Getty Images for RPM) He continued, \u201cOnce we had the school well underway, we thought why stop here? Now we partner with 45 public high schools in both New York City and Los Angeles, targeting the areas where students may not have the ability to take private lessons in dance, music or acting, so their only exposure to a formal arts education is during the school day. We have found that when kids have arts in the schools, they like coming to school and, more importantly, staying in school and graduating. It was one of the reasons why we chose to implement our support with high schools as that is the time that students are realizing that adulthood is around the corner, and I feel the arts bring people together and allows them to recognize what we share in common with each other rather than what makes us different. It\u2019s our connection to our shared humanity, and I think it makes students better citizens, so even if they don\u2019t pursue a career in the arts, they have this foundation that is an important part of helping them discover who they are as a person.\u201d Bennett has worked with numerous talented souls over the decades, such as Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, k.d. lang, Lady Gaga and the late Amy Winehouse. \u201cI already told you about my first meeting with Frank Sinatra, but I will also share the thing that he did that I will be forever grateful for and that took place when he was doing \u2018The Main Event\u2019 special in 1974,\u201d Bennett shared. \u201cSinatra knew that I wasn\u2019t able to come to the live show in person as my mother was very sick at the time. My mom and I watched the special when it aired, and in between one of the songs, Frank said that I was his favorite guy in the world, and I knew he said that because my mom would see it. She was so overjoyed by his praise that it meant everything to me that Frank would take the time during the show to acknowledge me.\u201d Bennett stated that he loved working with Stevie Wonder on his first \u201cDUETS\u201d album. \u201cI remember when I came into the studio, he was at the piano just improvising a jazz melody, and it could have been Oscar Peterson playing at the piano as Stevie was that good,\u201d he exclaimed. \u201cI would love to do a piano jazz album with Stevie.\u201d Bennett puts k.d. lang up there with some of music\u2019s greatest vocal talents. \u201cWhen I first heard k.d. lang sing at an event at Radio City, I knew I had to record with her. She is up there with Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald with such a natural gift. It is astounding,\u201d he said. \u201cI loved touring with her, and the only part of that which made me nervous when we were on stage together is that she sings barefoot, and I was always worried about stepping on her toes accidentally.\u201d Bennett spoke about the late Amy Winehouse, whom he mourned along with her friends and fans the world over. \u201cWe lost Amy Winehouse way too soon as she was a true jazz artist just like Billie Holiday. She was completely honest in her singing and fearless,\u201d he said. \u201cWhen we recorded \u2018Body and Soul,\u2019 she experimented with her phrasing, and it was so impressive. I could tell she was getting frustrated as she wasn\u2019t finding the approach she was searching for, and we took a break and I said to her, \u2018Do you know the singer Dinah Washington as you remind me of her?\u2019 Her face lit up, and she told me how much she loved Dinah. I shared some stories, and then the next take of \u2018Body and Soul\u2019 was simply perfect. I would have loved \u2013 as of course we all would \u2013 to have had the chance to see how she would grow and develop as a vocalist over time. She was one of a kind and truly genius.\u201d There is no escaping the incredible magic that takes place on stage or screen when Bennett and Lady Gaga are performing a duet. Courtesy of Columbia Records (Tony and Lady Gaga recording "Lady Is A Tramp") \u201cMy first impression of Lady Gaga when we were thinking about artists to record with for \u2018DUETS II\u2019 was what an accomplished pianist she was,\u201d Bennett emphasized. \u201cThen shortly thereafter, she and I were both performing at a benefit event for the Robin Hood Foundation, and I watched her perform and was amazed by how incredible she was as a live performer. The audience just adored her. So after the show, I went backstage to meet her for the first time and met her parents as well, and I asked if she would consider recording a song with me on the album. She didn\u2019t hesitate a second and said yes. When we recorded \u2018Lady Is A Tramp,\u2019 after the session, she went to every person in the studio and thanked them, which was a rare thing to do. So I just love her as a person, and as an entertainer she is exceptional. It didn\u2019t surprise me at all that she would succeed in the movies the same way she succeeds as a recording artist. She can do it all.\u201d Bennett was incredibly thoughtful with his time and responses and ended the conversation with his outlook on life at 92 years young. Tony Bennett in his art studio. (Photo by Mark Seliger) \u201cPersonally, for me, I have tried to stay positive and avoid stress as much as possible,\u201d Bennett said. \u201cAs I said before, when you have the perspective of having lived quite a few decades, you realize that the struggles have taught you something, and it\u2019s better to work through them and not run from them, so that is part of my philosophy. I like to think that every day is an opportunity to learn something new, and that makes each day exciting for me.\u201d Visit thecenterpresents.com for tickets.