Streams

Tony Bennett, Part One

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In this essay, Jonathan Schwartz recalls the desert, the late-1970's and his close friends Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.


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I called her by her entire name: Sally Keeble. My girlfriend at the time, late 1970s. We were stuck in the California desert during a relentless rain.

"We've got to get out of here," she suggested. She wasn't a severe girl; 27 years old, long black hair, introspective, honest. What she said was delivered emphatically. We had come to the desert to lie in the sun, smoke grass, drink vodka, and listen to music. The storm, projected as a one day event, settled above us, as if by law. Sally Keeble was angry.

"I have an idea," I said. "Let's go to Vegas. Both Tony Bennett and Sinatra are there. I know them both, but I'll bet that Tony would put us up."

 Which was true.

"Tony, we're trapped in the desert. Could you get us a room?"

"You can stay with me. I've got the Penthouse," he told me."

"Are you sure?" I asked, as a decency.

"You want to see my show?"

"That would be terrific!" I shouted, through the phones between Palm Springs and Las Vegas.

Sally Keeble was delighted. But she cautioned: "I think I'm getting some sort of flu."

"I'll take your temp." And did, with an always carried thermometer.

"Oh, my" she said, viewing the 101 degrees.

"Tony has many bedrooms. It's a Penthouse. Many bedrooms. Thousands."

No planes to Vegas. In fact, the Palm Springs airport had cancelled everything. But, buses were running to Ontario and then on to to Vegas, where the rain had modified.

On the bus, Sally Keeble vomited, turning to me as recipient.

"It's nothing," I said, though it was indeed something.

At the front desk at the Sahara, I asked for Tony Bennett. I was viewed menacingly.

"Call him, you deeply putrid Mr. Huntington." The name on a gold pin on a gold costume below a putrid face.

"Go up," Mr. Huntington reluctantly told us, after a brief exchange with Tony.

Tony Bennett opened the door, dressed beautifully in a light blue shirt, gray slacks, and good looking dark brown leather shoes.

Sally Keeble and I were water-soaked, dungereed, tennis-shirted, vomited upon, and altogether a mess, our soggy sneakers leaving prints on a green carpet, as we entered the Penthouse. Sally told Tony that she was ill. He showed her a cozy bedroom, where she retired for the night. As she closed the door she said to me, "He resembles the singer Tony Bennett."

I returned to her about a half hour later to find her naked and vomiting on the bathroom floor. She looked up for a moment and said: "We have no business here." Meaning the bathroom (I asked her later).

In the living room, Tony was smoking grass with a very short man whose name I've forgotten. The grass, which I sampled, seemed to emerge from the very short man's pockets, and was well ahead of its time, as if Michael Jordan had been discovered on the Chicago Stags in 1949. One inhalation did it for me. I was all prepped up then, for music. Bennett first, and then, by God, Sinatra. Tony had called over and had nailed a first row seat for me at Sinatra's second show at The Sands. I noticed that Tony had taken one last mighty hit of the very short man's product. How, I wondered, would he ever do a show. He always gave us many songs, and medleys. Forty lyrics at least.

A minute or two before the curtain went up I remember thinking: I have no business here. Which made me laugh, of course, considering my astounding intoxication, annoying garishly dressed men and women sitting nearby. A nasal laugh, unpleasant. Perhaps similar to an LSD laugh. A weird laugh. How would Tony Bennett get out of this one?

I lowered my head and turned to quiet. I feared for Tony Bennett the singer.

To be continued...

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Comments [13]

Kimberly Torchy

Leaving us hanging...so looking forward to the rest of this. Mr. Schwartz, your writing - in addition to your programs and musical selections and commentaries - has brought me so much enjoyment and pleasure. Thank you so very much! You add so much to the quality my of life.

Feb. 14 2014 09:03 PM
Sondra from Boca Raton, FLorida

O Jonathan!
Where have you been all my life? Your writing, your selections of the greatest songs ever written have been hidden behind some foggy day in London or is it New York. Never leave me er us..... I would die of a broken heartfollowed by thousands of other devotees of Jonathan......(sigh)

Feb. 13 2014 11:36 PM
Bob

More please!

Feb. 13 2014 04:11 PM
Sal from Monroe,Ga

Once again a marvelous story about people and a time i really enjoy,please continue with these type stories. I'm introducing you and your show to not only my daughters but grand-daughters.Thanx for all you do for the music of our life.

Feb. 13 2014 10:15 AM
James from Beacon NY 12508

Cool story, can't wait to finish it.

Feb. 12 2014 11:12 PM
John A. Byrne from San Francisco

Jonno,

Love the story and can't wait to read the rest.

Hopefully, Sally makes a recovery in time for Frank's show. But I bet it didn't make that much of a difference. After all, you to see Bennett & Sinatra on the same night. Whoa.

Feb. 12 2014 08:34 PM
Richard Gross from Astana, Kazakhstan

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony at The Blue Note in Osaka, Japan in the early 90s just before his career resurgence. My wife and I were the only non-Japanese in the club. We stopped by his table between shows to say hello and he and Ralph Sharon (his pianist then), very graciously, took time away from a hurried dinner to speak with us. I would meet him again 4 years later in New York at a very small press conference (I was at Columbia J-School then) announcing the opening of a new jazz station in the city. Tony looked over and said: "We've met, haven't we?" I reminded him of our meeting in Japan and he, again graciously, autographed a few photos for me. How amazing that after four years and thousands of faces, he would remember a kid he spoke with for a few minutes in a smoky, poorly lit club 8 thousand miles away and 4 years in the rear-view mirror. Our premier living singer, a fabulous artist and just a great guy.

Feb. 12 2014 07:35 PM
Audrey Parker from Montville NJ

This is such a wonderful story..looking forward to the rest Audrey

Feb. 12 2014 04:01 PM
Gary Hoopengardner from Brooklyn, New York

Great story, and I want to hear more. I'm very intrigued and surprised that you would share this, but I'm also glad to hear a real story.

Feb. 12 2014 01:53 PM
Judy in Wisconsin

How touching to hear this story about two of my favorite people. Can't want to see how it ends.

Feb. 12 2014 01:32 PM
Magee from NYC

Hey, gimme some a that!

Feb. 12 2014 01:16 PM
Jack from Denver, CO

What a wonderful story told with sparkling humor and sparse wit.

Anxiously awaiting how it plays out.

Feb. 12 2014 12:49 PM
Flo Schell

Loving your writing, Jonathan. Just another part of you I have yet to experience. Thank you. Flo

Feb. 12 2014 12:38 PM

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