Our occasional Washington, DC, correspondent John Birchard sent a message that included the following observations about Tony Bennett, An American Classic, the special that ran on NBC Television last night.
I thought The Old Man outclassed all the other performers. Bennett is in astonishingly good shape, vocally. The last few years, he seems to take more liberties with the melodies, adding nice little alternatives that freshen the songs he’s sung so many times. (example: “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” which also featured lovely accompaniment from Bill Charlap)
My major complaint about the show is that it seemed like the camera never stopped moving. I suppose the director and/or producer deem that necessary for today’s media-saturated generation, but I find it tiresome. Also, it seemed like the camera seldom settled on Bennett in close-up… there were mostly medium- and long-range shots, or hazy, atmospheric closer pictures of him. Are they afraid we’ll see how old he is?
But, all in all, it was good to see and hear an hour with Bennett. The word “icon” is
used altogether too often on so many of today’s suddenly-arrived stars, but it seems
appropriate for somebody who’s stood for so long as a model of taste and integrity
in the notoriously changeable pop music world.
Hope you had a chance to catch the show. –JB
Yes, I watched it, amazed that a network would do something like that these days. The Las Vegas segment was godawful, but we speculated that, as a spoof, Rob Marshall, the director, made it as faitfhul as possible to one of those dreadful Vegas hotel productions. I had never before heard Elton John sing an actual song. He was in tune, and his phrasing wasn’t bad. K.D. Lang sang well.
Bennett looked and sounded fine, with only a couple of intonation slips. His phrasing and interpretation of lyrics have improved over the years, and they were good to start with, even on that terrible song that made him famous, “Rags to Riches.”
The rapport I’ve seen in the past between Diana Krall and Tony didn’t quite materialize. Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo was the instrumental highlight of the hour. His singing drove me nuts. It always has, but he’s written two or three good songs. Christina Aguilar? That was a joke, right? BublÃ©? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Charlap got a solo chorus on “San Francisco,” but they covered him with meaningless b-roll shots, about twenty of them in half a minute. Television, like the movies, is infected with the quick-cut disease. God forbid that a director should let the audience get used to a shot for longer than three seconds.
Let’s see, who else was there? Oh, Streisand, at the beginning. She sang beautifully. I wish that the show had maintained the taste and simplicity of that opening song, but any network getting away with presenting palatable music in 2006 must satisfy the MTV generation and those with MTV tastes. When Bennett is gone, what popular singer of classic songs who has taste, ability and a repertoire of standards will have the clout to get a network television program like this?
Do you know who wrote the arrangements? I tried to catch that info during the
closing credits, but missed it – if it was there. — JB