Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TONY BENNETT; 'The Best Singer in the Business' (According to Frank Sinatra) Has Won over Several Generations of Fans

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TONY BENNETT; 'The Best Singer in the Business' (According to Frank Sinatra) Has Won over Several Generations of Fans

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Marino, Times-Union music writer

In 2001, when Tony Bennett turned 75 years old, Vanity Fair reprinted a black-and-white photograph that may reveal the more about the singer than any other portrait.

In the picture, snapped on Coney Island, Bennett stands in the right third of the frame. In the center is Frank Sinatra.

The men are dressed in tuxedos, looking fresh from the kind of barber that used to give gentlemen shaves along with their haircut. Bennett's mouth, like Sinatra's, is preoccupied with a Nathan's hot dog. But at the corner of his face, his lips turn upward into a thin and knowing grin, a minor version of the explosive beam that is as much of a trademark as his romantic croon.

Ever since Bob Hope discovered him singing in a New York nightclub in 1949, Tony Bennett has built a career blending carefully cultivated elegance with everyman approachability. In short, he's spent the last five decades being the kind of guy who eats a hot dog in a tuxedo, smiling all the while.

Between his bright songbook standards and his internationally displayed paintings, he long ago established himself as a genial American ambassador of popular culture. His artwork has an almost childlike enthusiasm for the world, and his musical catalog contains a seemingly endless string of songs -- The Best Is Yet to Come, I've Got the World on a String, Rags to Riches and so on -- that reflect his sunny disposition.

In the last decade or so, Bennett has dramatically expanded his audience to include a generation far too young to remember Sammy, Dean, Frank and the golden age of the dapper male vocalist. He's appeared on The Simpsons and Late Night with David Letterman, and his MTV Unplugged album won the Grammy as Album of the Year in 1994.

He has, over the course of his career, sold more than 50 million records. And his cross-generational fanbase assures that his catalog will keep on selling.

"I never wanted a hit record -- I wanted a hit catalog, and now it's happening," Bennett said in a phone interview.

"I can sing whatever I want and paint whatever I want, and follow my own instincts. That's what I really love."

Bennett, who will close the Jacksonville Jazz Festival with a performance Sunday night at Metropolitan Park, has a simple motto -- "if something is good, it's good" -- that has carried him through his long career.

"A Louis Armstrong solo, Frank Sinatra's flawless recordings that he made, these records and the performances last. They're remembered by the public. And because of records and films and television [plus] videos and DVDs now, they'll be permanent. If something is good, it's gonna stay good."

The recent success of Norah Jones has made heart-on-the-sleeve balladry and timeless pop music seem commercially viable again, but the truth is that Bennett underwent his major audience expansion during the early 1990s, when Kurt Cobain was king. …

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