In our review of the Tony Bennett TV special, a question arose about the absence of arranger credits. The New York Sun‘s Will Friedwald, reviewing Bennett’s Duets CD, provides a substantial clue that the charts were a team effort:
Mr. Bennett’s musical director and pianist Lee Musiker, string orchestrator Jorge Calandrelli, and horn arranger Torrie Zito (who has worked with Mr. Bennett for 40 years) have collaborated to rewrite or amend classic Bennett charts by Ralph Sharon, Johnny Mandel, and others in a way that preserves the best of the past.
Rifftides reader Mark Stryker, the music writer for The Detroit Free Press, sent the following message with information about Calandrelli and about the eighty-year-old Bennett’s vocal regimen.
I happened to meet Calandrelli in August at the Vibrato Grill, the swanky restaurant-jazz club in Bel Air owned by Herb Albert. I was in Los Angeles working on a couple of stories and went to the place to hear a friend of mine, pianist John Campbell; Calandrelli was there to eat and check out the music after some function at the Mancini Institute, and we were introduced. He seemed to be a very, very nice man. What was weird was that two days earlier I had spoken to Bennett for 20 minutes for a quick-hit story for the Free Press. I mentioned this to Calandrelli, who told me about the CD, though I cannot recall if he said anything about the film.
In my short interview with Bennett, which we ran as a Q-and-A, I asked him specifically about craft and how he’s kept his voice in such good shape. I’ve copied the exchange below. It relates nicely to your observations and those of your D.C. correspondent.
Question: At 80, your voice is still in remarkably supple shape. You’ve taken good care of your instrument, haven’t you?
Bennett: Yes. I had good training and very good teachers. After the Second World War, when I came home, I studied at the American Theatre Wing under the GI Bill and they taught me how to keep my voice in good shape.
Q: What did they teach?
A: Stay very musical and the system of and doing that warm-up, which is very easy, unlike what everybody thinks. I’m not trying to sing like Pavarotti. Just the vowel sounds of A, E, Ah, Oh, OO, and warm up that way because each day it’s a little different. It keeps you in shape, so you don’t have to push.
Q: Do you have a vocal routine?
A: It takes about 15 minutes. Sometimes it’s very intimate and no one can even hear you do it. It’s a matter of breathing properly and when you feel the center — it’s almost like tai chi — you get relaxed and you can see where you are that day.
I do it in bits and pieces. Like in the morning, if I’m shaving, I’ll very quietly hum a kind of flat sound without any vibrato, and then about 2 o’clock in the afternoon I go to it for about 15 minutes. Once I feel that center, I’m ready to perform.
Q: I spoke recently with the great jazz pianist Hank Jones, who just turned 88 and still practices two hours a day. As his fellow pianist Cedar Walton told me, “Preparation is his secret weapon.”
A: Boy, that’s good advice. You know, the late Joe Williams saw me on a airplane once, and we had a chat. He sang with the Basie band in the ’50s. He said, “You know what it is about you? It’s not that you want to sing. It’s that you have to sing.” I said, “You just saved me a lot of money from going to a psychiatrist.”
Q: You’re not a jazz musician, but jazz has clearly had a huge impact on your phrasing, your sense of time, the way you interact with a band.
A: I know how to improvise, and for me jazz is the greatest contribution culturally that the United States has given to the world.
Q: You’re always concerned with getting the message of the song across, but there’s a looseness to the phrasing that makes it come alive in the moment.
A: That’s the whole thing. It’s the interpretation of going behind the beat or in front of the beat, and it changes every night. You might be singing the same song but there’s a vitalness that the musicians feed me and I feed them. I’ll make a turn of phrase and all of sudden they’ll change the chords, embellish it and make it better.
Q: There’s such optimism in your singing and the way you interpret a lyric. Are you you really that happy?
A: No, it’s a gift. My life is absolutely gorgeous. Imagine the things that are happening to me. I’m 80 years old and it’s really the greatest year that I’ve ever had — becoming an NEA Jazz Master and the Smithsonian Institute has accepted one of my paintings and it’s in there permanently, along with John Singer Sargent and Hopper and Winslow Homer. I’ll never get over that.