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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. 

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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?"

 

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Comments [7]

Aleck Grishkevich from Marina del Rey, CA

How "cool" or what a "kick" or "how bitchin'" (Don't know which of these terms is applicable - or conveys meaning - in 2014)it must be professionally for Jonathan to be heard around the world which is the opportunity afforded him now thanks to the Internet and the WNYC streaming and Jonathan Channel on it. I wonder how may listened to him in 1967 when I first became a fan, when Jonathan was on WNEW-FM in NY playing music of a different genre, although some of it is timeless enough to be still played on WNYC/Jonathan Channel? (Keep in mind WNEW-AM and FM the 2 biggest things in NYC radio at the time.) I followed him through the Sunday morning show on WNEW-AM; shows he did on weekdays on WNEW-AM, including the extraordinary "New York at Night" (Not exactly the name, but no time to look it up as I write.), which was like one of Jonathan's Christmas shows now, but 5 days a week; on the late, "noble experiment" WQEW-AM; to WNYC; to XM or Sirius and then SiriusXM; and now back on WNYC. When I started listening in 1967, Frank Sinatra was an anathema to us as was The Great American Songbook. Tony Bennett? "I Left My Heart In SF"? It made us do what Sally Keeble was doing. The fact that all today have survived, are flourishing, continue to attract - and more importantly have meaning to - new and younger audiences, and are - to paraphrase Jonathan - the soundtrack of our lives are through his lifelong zealous and intelligent efforts. (Jonathan's 'NEW colleague, the very cool Willy B., continued to play FAS in the period of the '50s when nobody wanted a part of "Old Blue Eyes" thus allowing him to become "Old Blue Eyes." N.B. FAS was a "no-show" at "Guillermo B. Guillermos" funeral.) Jonathan educated us - I know he did me - as he continues to do on why this music is meritorious as it is. The Music DOES Live On!

Feb. 22 2014 03:44 AM
Sal from Monroe,GA

please more stories!!!

Feb. 21 2014 02:17 PM
joe lazzaro

Jonathan:
What were the top moments in that Bennett Concert?

Feb. 20 2014 11:40 AM
Aleck Grishkevich from Marina del Rey, CA

Jonathan! I've been a listener since the 'NEW-FM days. (Probably listened to one of the first Sunday shows on 'NEW-AM. "NY at Night" ? on the AM-side was extraordinary.) You're a better writer and have more - and more insightful - things to offer than what is being exhibited in the two pieces thus far on Tony Bennett I would imagine.(I do recall your remarking in a ESQUIRE article that its impossible to have a pleasant encounter with FS Jr. to paraphrase; still brings a chuckle when called to mind as now, especially having encountered him once myself. Nasty, but true and certainly insightful.) What a time - the 60s - what a place - NYC - a what stations and line-ups - Jim Lowe ("Mr. Broadway"), Scott Muni, the much missed Willy B. ("Hello! World!") and YOU. (I remember William B. Williams reading a Pete Hamill anti-Viet Nam war column from the POST on-air on WNEW-AM!!!) We've all smoked ganja and have all required ginger ale on occasion. Whether we need to read about especially one is in the mind of this open to debate I would imagine, especially when a writer such a yourself could conjure up better as if by wizardry.

Feb. 19 2014 04:17 PM
Martha Magee

You trumpeter of Truth, you!

Feb. 19 2014 01:38 PM
gpol from sarasota, fl

and then.......want to hear more

Feb. 19 2014 12:53 PM
Tobias from New York

Highly addictive stuff.. your storytelling I mean.

Feb. 19 2014 11:54 AM

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The sounds of Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and other masters of the American songbook can be heard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in the world.

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