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CDA: Tony Bennett

My friend Dianna alerted me to the death of Tony Bennett, who died the yesterday at the age of 96. I immediately brought up this video of him singing "When Joanna Loved Me" on what appears to be The Tonight Show in the 70s.

I was at my desk in the office and I was convulsed in tears. Tony is maybe my favorite singer ever. I grew up listening to his 1962 Carnegie Hall concert. And that, to me, was what defined great singing. The balance of a supremely powerful, beautiful voice and a deep, life-long search for truth in words and music - - the sincerity and sensitivity mixed with a bone-deep sense of stage manner with a hint of swagger. Tony was the diva and the mensch, big time on both counts.

I asked my dear friend Scott to share a memory of seeing Tony in concert:

I saw Tony Bennet in mid-August of 1994 at the 40,000 seat amphitheater on Milwaukee’s Summerfest grounds. The amphitheater sits right on the Lake Michigan waterfront, with the audience facing downtown and the performer enjoying a panoramic view of Lake Michigan behind the audience. It was a warm, humid summer evening when the concert started at 8pm. It was Festa Italiana that weekend and Milwaukee’s Italian community was out enforce to see Benedetto.

About an hour into the first set Tony said, “I hate to stop the show like this, but I need you all to see what I’m seeing. Turn around.” We turned around and I saw the largest orange Harvest Moon I have ever seen in my life rising over Lake Michigan. Something about the humidity and rising over the water made the moon appear unusually large and beautiful. As if on cue, the audience together responded, “Awww.” Tony laughed. “Well,” he said, “I think we’re going to have to change the setlist and sing some moon songs.” He sang "Blue Moon," "Old Devil Moon," a few other songs with moon in the title, shouting the next piece to the Ralph Sharon trio during the previous song’s applause. Then he started singing, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and I thought, “Oh, the Moon set is over.” He sang, “I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces, all day through . . .” You don’t think of it as a Moon Song. But, this beautiful standard ends with:

I'll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I'll be looking at the moon

But I'll be seeing you.

He gestured to the moon and gestured to us on “seeing you.” He stopped singing and there was long, stunned silence. Followed by what remains the longest showstopper standing ovation I have ever witnessed (or am likely to). It was an audience thanking a troubadour, a craftsman who knew the catalogue so deeply he could respond to a shared moment with such a sweet surprise.

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