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Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 in Concert – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

‘Of all the contemporary artists I know, she has the most natural jazz voice, but I’m worried about her and I’m praying for her.’

Tony Bennett’s concerns for Amy Whitehouse following their collaborative duets were sadly apposite. His admiration and kindness drew him the appreciation and affection of yet another generation of fans. Many here tonight weren’t even born when he had his 1951 number one debut hit Because Of You.

Seemingly effortless in style, ever a tune to swoon the ladies with, it maybe long ago he lost his heart in San Francisco but he’s melted many more along the way since. He’s got rhythm, he does his thing with Swing, a fully paid-up maestro of the Jazz Club aristocracy: the timeless ambassador of crooner cool.

It’s top hats doffed tonight and a very Happy 90th Birthday tour –  near beatified – standing ovation welcome for the fantastic Mr Bennett. It’s his 10th Symphony Hall gig and rear-stalls seat T for Tony number 10 is name dedicated in his honour at the end of the show. He says the Symphony Hall is the finest auditorium in the world. So good he named it twice.

Tonight, he makes Birmingham his Kind Of Town. Appropriately, The Best Is Yet To Come. The Tony Bennett Quartet comprised of jazz masters Gray Sargent (guitar), Marshall Wood (bass), Billy Streich (piano) with Harold Jones (drums) opens with an overture/medley of numbers including Cheek to Cheek, Time Goes By and Who’s Got The Last Laugh Now?

The melody man with élan himself, sartorially suited, takes to the stage to a mighty affectionate roar. He cruises, bruises and schmoozes through a near twenty-five-song set. No discreet prompt cards or lyric monitors to be seen. He hits the high notes, sustains the climax and what if there’s the occasional rough edge? Think of the resonating ping of a butterfly landing on a Ming vase, there may be microscopic cracks in the glaze that but lends further proof of its authenticity and beauty.

There’s a momentary lapse when he reprises I’m Old Fashioned but an ocean’s swell of support from the audience and the artistry of the band turn it into a minor triumph. Inevitably, I Left My Heart In San Francisco is one of the main-set closers.

But perhaps it is his Fly Me To The Moon encore, sans mic, with just the nuanced melodic balm of Gray Sargent’s electric guitar that will remain forever etched on the pin-drop silenced audiences’ hearts. A celebration of consummate style and class. TB or not TB? – there’s no question about it. Imagine a World without Love.

Reviewed on 3 July 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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