Every now and then (like tonight) I think about how my life started as a boy from Hancock. All the dreams I had as a kid about going places and seeing things were so far away from where I grew up. As I watched the lights dim in Overture Hall and the crowd start to applaud as the four piece band began to play it reminded me of how I wanted my life to be lived as an adult. Seated next to me was James, another dream.
That is what I was thinking when an audio recording filled the hall with Frank Sinatra making an introduction decades ago of the man who then took the stage to thunderous applause. Tony Bennett may be 90 years old but there was not one person who thought so as they stood and gave the first of many sustained standing ovations.
There is no equal to Bennett and his musical style which continues to hold audiences in the palm of his hand. The complete sold-out show was mostly over 50 years of age–but there were excited fans in their young adult years too who were finding the joy in what is commonly referred to as ‘the great American songbook’.
Bennett commanded the stage for 70 minutes and made the audience smile and verbally remark as he spun on a few numbers and included a few dance steps along the way. Like Sinatra and others of his style there was no needless banter but instead a solid performance of tunes, which included during the last third of the show, a number of his classics. His vocal pitch and volume addressed each song in the rich tradition we have come to know. It seemed to me–and confirmed by others as conversations flowed following the show–that Bennett actually gained vocal strength as the evening progressed.
He did remark during one song his appreciation for Hillary Clinton which drew applause–though I can say the woman sitting next to me was not sharing my smiles and handclaps. She did however love the ending as every single person in the 2,200 seat hall was simply mesmerized when the last song was sung without any amplification.
The first time I saw Bennett perform about 1990 in Madison in the Oscar Meyer Theater–a much smaller venue–he did a song without a microphone. The people in the back of the hall heard him perfectly. The following day he was at a music store and I was able to meet him and get his autograph.
Tonight as Bennett sang his final song, Fly Me To The Moon, there was a stillness in the hall as every note was savored. One could feel the unanimous internal expression of ‘oh my God!’ There was a bittersweet recognition that this moment will likely not come our way again. It was a gift to be treasured.
This evening Bennett and his entourage had dinner at Naples 15 on the isthmus. I suspect that was about the best advertising this restaurant has ever had–and this boy from Hancock plans to take his better half there soon.
Thank you Mr. Bennett for a truly fantastic night in Madison with your music!