Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Seeing Tony Bennett

Reading that Tony Bennett has Alzheimer's Disease turned my thoughts to Long Beach, where I saw him perform one year ago today.  I had seen him twice before at the Hollywood Bowl, in 1993 and 1995.  He was getting up in age back then, so I was surprised to find he was still at it and jumped at the chance to see him for what would likely be the last time. 

Tony Bennett and his band at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, February 2, 2020
 This was a smaller, more intimate venue than The Bowl, and once Tony stepped on stage, it was a love fest with his largely white-haired audience.  I wasn't sure what kind of show to expect.  I had seen Peggy Lee and John Lee Hooker (not together, but that would have been awesome) near the end of their lives and it was sad to watch as their skills were shot.  Would Tony still be able to sing?

 Yep!  Tony belted out his standards, one after another after another, never sitting down the entire 90 minute set.  Not only did he look like Tony Bennett, he sounded like him too.   But there were signs of trouble.  On a few ballads, he would pause, not for phrasing, but because he had forgotten the lyrics.  The band would play around it, and Tony would pick it up later and continue, seamlessly, like only an old pro could.

And then there's the pianist.  Tony introduced him on at least eight occasions, each time with the same enthusiasm.  But can I remember that man's name today?  Mike?  Dave?  Let's go with Cliff.  After the third or fourth introduction to Cliff , the audience caught on to what was up.  At first they reacted with concern.  Then they started having fun with it, shouting out Cliff's name with Tony.  It was funny, but also it was sad.  Mr. B was fading away - but he sure was having fun!

The Bennett tour would last another month before COVID-19 restrictions shut it down with everything else.  I don't know if he'll ever perform live again, but I am so grateful to have seen him that night.  At the end of the show, he must have done a half dozen curtain calls, like he didn't want to say goodbye either.  

Thank you, Mr Bennett, wherever you are. 


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