The legendary, Grammy-winning singer delivered a bevy of classics for a capacity crowd in Meijer Gardens’ 20th anniversary concert at what he called the world’s ‘finest concert hall.’ Fireworks capped the show.
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By Lazaro Vega
Following a classic medium-slow interpretation of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay” on Monday night, legendary singer Tony Bennett had a heartfelt message for the wildly appreciative house that came to hear him close out Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s 2015 summer concert series.
“Some people say these songs are old,” he said, “but I believe they’re the best American songs that have ever been written.”
Tune after lovely tune, the great American singer and his top-tier accompanists honored the world of the Great American songbook on Labor Day night, enchanting the crowd with his stage craft, pacing, showmanship and, especially, musical phrasing, stamina, swing and trademark power. In honoring a composer’s intention, Bennett is as honest and effective at putting over these melodies as was Ella Fitzgerald.
And what a song list for what Meijer Gardens billed as its 20th anniversary concert — from the first number he ever recorded, Harry Warren’s vivid “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” to the hit he made 50 years ago, a tippin’ “Just in Time” that helped turn the song into a standard.
And then there was Irving Berlin’s “Stepping Out With My Baby,” which introduced a new generation to his great style when he sang it on MTV in 1993, followed by “The Good Life,” which he recorded in 2014 with Lady Gaga.
“That’s selling millions all over the world,” he said, then slyly smiled and added, “She really needs the money, you know?”
Following a recording of Frank Sinatra introducing Bennett as the best singer in the business, the 89-year old strode on stage donning a butter-colored dinner jacket, dark slacks and tie and greeted the standing ovation from the crowd with “Watch What Happens,” and later proclaimed that the Meijer Gardens amphitheater was “the finest concert hall in the whole world.”
His jazz chops, rushing ahead of the beat in a phrase then finding the right word to hold a long note and let the song catch up, were all part of Gershwin’s “They All Laughed.” Turning “Maybe This Time” into a three-part suite also earned a standing ovation, and allowed pianist Mike Renzi to show some chops worthy of Rachmaninoff, before Bennett ended it, milking the drama in his voice.
Bennett and his band’s “I Got Rhythm” proved to be as professional as music can be played, with a sotto voce dynamic propelled by bassist Marshall Wood before opening up to one of Gray Sargent’s improvised guitar solos and ending with drummer Harold Jones’ cut-time finish.
FROM ‘THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT’ TO ‘I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO’
Bennett stood with right hand in his pocket, left hand holding the mic chest high and Sargent standing next to him down front, to sing “But Beautiful” with caring nonchalance, sustaining passages in the lyrics as only Tony Bennett can.
After another standing ovation for “The Way You Look Tonight,” he sang the tear-jerker “How Do You Keep The Music Playing?” and the gentle bossa “The Shadow of Your Smile” before drawing another standing ovation after “For Once In My Life” (which had Bennett sweeping his hand across the crowd as he sang, “Someone warm like you”).
And he certainly took the crowd’s expectations to heart by including his signature tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
His daughter, Antonia, opened the program with a handful of classics, including Noel Coward’s “Sail Away,” and a number she said she sang for Brenda Lee in Nashville, “You Were Always on My Mind,” before she returned to the stage later to join her father in a soft-shoe version of “Old Friends.”
Bennett’s four curtain calls and smiling thumbs up seemed to reflect an appreciation for the loving audience of 1,900, another sellout crowd in a summer season that saw 23 of 30 concerts sell out at the outdoor amphitheater, which capped the celebratory evening with a fireworks display.
“We’ve toured all over the world,” the singer told the crowd, “and this is the finest venue we’ve played.”
Lazaro Vega is jazz director at Blue Lake Public Radio and curates The Underground Series at LaFontsee Galleries with adventuremusic.com.
PHOTO GALLERY: Tony Bennett at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC