Tony Bennett, Part Two of Three
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
In this essay (part 2 of 3), Jonathan Schwartz recalls the desert, the late-1970's and his close friends Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.
The band played a cheesy "More," dominated by an irritating soprano sax solo. I imagined the curtain rising and Bennett approaching us from the back of the stage, the microphone in hand, a ballad ready to wipe out the "More" of the matter (Jerry Seinfeld told me a few years later that "More" reminded him of his Bar Mitzvah, and that he would rather not hear it "ever again").
But the curtain didn't rise. Instead, the comedian David Brenner was trumpeted, and out he came from somewhere, and took his place in front of the curtain to deliver a witless, vulgar, and relentless act that amused but a handful of witnesses. You must keep in mind my one toke of Tony's grass (as I pointed out last week was like discovering Michael Jordan on the 1949 Chicago Stags). I had giggled and laughed my way from Tony's Penthouse, down an eventually full elevator, across a lengthy lobby, and roaring with fun had taken my seat on the aisle of row seven. Even the word row struck me as hilarious. Not David Brenner. I grew progressively angry at him. I mumbled a bit, audible to my neighbors. Eventually, he uttered something utterly opaque.
"Not funny!" I explained, aggressively, trumpeting the truth, despite the laughing grass from the man who resembled the singer Tony Bennett.
"Quiet!" someone shot my way.
I recall replying, "Oh Yeah?".
But I receded, and focused on Sally Keeble, upstairs in her cozy room, asleep in her cozy bed with her 101 degree temperature. I wondered if I should marry Sally Keeble. Absolutely! Here in Vegas, for God's sake. After her fever went down, of course of course (for the record, her fever went down the very next morning. And we never married.)
I recall wishing for a cane to be extended suddenly from the wings, finding David Brenner's neck and hauling him off the stage. He was, however, finishing up. "Ladies and gentlemen, gals and guys, and ushers (laughter from behind me), "THE GREAT TONY BENNETT!".
Up, at last, went the curtain. No Tony Bennett. Maybe thirty seconds. And then, remarkably, Bennett flew onto the stage, running, it seemed to me, at full speed. He was smiling, he was happy. A stage hand's arm appeared from the dark wings, holding out Bennett's microphone.
Tony had forgotten it. Oh God, oh God, oh God. Oh Tony, oh Tony. Oh God
It took him just a bit of time to realize that, well, he was missing something. By that time, the stage hand, his arm in plaid flannel, was wiggling the mic to catch Tony's attention. It worked, by golly. Bennett flew to it. He might have even taken to the air, settling back on the stage graciously, oh so graciously. A long wire followed him out to mid stage, and he began to sing.
Ladies and gentlemen, gals and guys, and ushers, what happened next is one of possibly ten or fifteen of the top memories I've accumulated in theaters around the world. This fellow, this man who closely resembled the singer Tony Bennett, became that very man.
The only notes I took were numerical. How many songs, including songs within medleys. An hour and a half later, when finally Tony stopped, he had concluded a program of 47 titles. Without one missed beat. Without one misplaced lyric. In top voice. I was exhausted with pleasure.
I stood and yelled "Bravo! Bravo!" Wait until I tell Sally Keeble!
I thought that Tony might have caught my Bravo - he seemed to smile in my direction. And then he left the stage, and I, the theater, to go upstairs and embrace that thrilling musician, who must be up there by now, having ascended in some secret elevator, known to but a few.
I remember the following: I needed more of what the very short man had given, sold to TB, as Tony was known to serious fans. In about an hour I'd be right there in front of Sinatra, FS, as he was known to serious fans. But not to me. He was Frank when I was with him, and Sinatra on the air. I was going to hear them both, at The Sands. When he had met Sally Keeble at Sorrentino's restaurant in Palm Springs, he saw her from afar, came towards us, extended his hand to her, looked her square in the eye, and said quietly but dynamically,
"Frank Sinatra." And then to me, without turning away from Sally Keeble, he tossed a "Hi, Jonno" my way, as if it were an Oreo.
I was right about Tony. When I entered the Penthouse, he was there, in a whole new outfit.
"Was it OK?" he asked. I was stymied for a moment. "Was there something wrong?" he asked.
"Tony, no. You surely must know. Surely?"