Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Posted by David Berner at 9:07 PM
Posted by David Berner at 9:02 PM
Posted by David Berner at 10:34 AM
“Don’t ask me just how it happened, I wish I knew.
I can’t believe that it happened, and still it’s true…”
Irving Berlin wrote the words and music. Rogers and Hammerstein were producing “Annie Get Your Gun” on Broadway as a vehicle for Ethel Merman. When the movie was made, Howard Keel got the role of Frank Butler, but MGM felt Judy Garland couldn’t cut the mustard, so they threw Betty Hutton into the buckskin.
The song is called “I got lost in Her Arms,” and the crowd at Sam Yehia’s old Plazazz Room in the former Plaza Hotel at the foot of Capilano Road in North Vancouver was not particularly attentive. Couples argued about the daily banalities they thought they had left behind them. The regulars had already seen Ella and Dizzy, so it was going to take a lot to impress them. It was 1983 and the housing market was still in a deep hole.
Tony Bennett had come a long way from “I know I’d Go From Rags to Riches.” But the Beatles, the Stones, and Bob Dylan had just about rung the death knoll for crooners and the interpreters of the Great American Songbook.
It would be another few years before Tony’s son, Danny said, “Dad, I want you to make a video for this MTV thing.”
Of course, Tony thought that was nuts. Of course, it rocketed his fortunes to the moon. The Much crowd saw this totally cool old guy dancing around and they ate him up. His fee multiplied tenfold over the next few years.
But, on this night, in North Vancouver in 1983, Tony Bennett was ignoring it all and doing his thing. When he got to the song’s most important line, Tony did that signature gesture of his. Instead of singing it, Tony declaimed, like he was Marc Antony rousing the rabble at the forum, “I got lost…but look what I found!” And he clapped his right hand across his heart just to nail the point.
Now I was sitting in the second row. When Tony hit this moment, I burst into tears. O.K. I’m a geek. I freely confess it.
The next day we’re up in Tony’s suite, the two-story Ginger Rogers Suite with the winding staircase that Miss Rogers had danced down only a few months earlier. The Great Acts are always gracious. Tony is tripping out on my Sony tape recorder. He’s doing a monologue first on the elegant design of this machine, then, on the particular light in the Vancouver sky that makes this region of the world so paintable.
I tell him how deeply moved I was by his work the night before. Of course, he’s grateful and kind. Then I tell him that I have a theory about why some people just won’t sit still and listen. “You’re so immediate. There’s an emotional impact that you send out that is so direct. I think for many people it’s just too much, too real.”
“You know only one other person ever told me that before, and that was Mable Mercer.”
The next day there’s a message on my home answering machine.
“Hey, David. It’s Tony Bennett. I’m at the hotel. So many people have told me that they heard the interview and they loved it. I’d really like to play tennis. So if you’d like to play tennis, give me a call. This is Tony Bennett. I’m at the hotel.”
We go to a bubble in North Vancouver and we hit some singles for a while. I get him laughing right away. I call him to the net after a few minutes. “You know, Tony, I think you’ll settle down and hit some better balls once you get over the fact that Dave Berner’s on the other side of the net.”
Later, we hit some doubles and then he holds court in the lounge, entertaining a whole gang of us with stories about having dinners with a few down-home folk like George Burns and Rosemary Clooney.
Now, back in June of this year, Tony Bennett opened the Vancouver International Jazz Festival with an extraordinary evening at the Orpheum. The man is a day or two shy of his eightieth birthday. I warned my friend that we might not hear the best he can give. He might cheat on some of the notes; he might not have the pipes. Ha!
After a wonderful, inventive opening set with Brad Turner on piano, Darren Radtke on bass and Bernie Arai on drums, Tony stepped out in a dark blue suit and gold tie. He picked the mike off the piano and killed for more than an hour and a half. He hit every note and then some. He built stories and emotions and crescendos. We howled and screamed. We wouldn’t let the guy go, and when, after four or five encores, he finally disappeared in the wings, we were still on our feet begging for more. The great saloon singer, knocking them dead in a refurbished opera house, and, on two occasions, without a mike. Just stand on the stage and hit the back wall with the stuff The Great Arranger gave you.
My friend, Geoff, on Salt Spring Island is 78 and when he doesn’t answer the phone on the first ring, it’s because he’s up on his roof fiddling with his water reclamation system. Dal Richards is about 270 and he’s booked with gigs into the next century. Jimmy Pattison is getting up there and he only works 26 hours a day, nine days a week.
And you’re thinking about retirement?
Posted by David Berner at 10:29 AM
Posted by David Berner at 10:11 AM