Photos by Armando Gallardo, Words by Fernando Gallardo
All we could see around us were tuxedos, gowns and sports jackets. It was the Strathmore’s most important event of the year, their annual spring gala, an event meant to raise money for the center and celebrate the arts. I thought that maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t wearing any of those that really had all eyes on me, but after taking a second look around I realized it had nothing to do with my attire but with my age. I was the youngest person in the audience.
After a short warm up performance by the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra, The Tony Bennett Quartet walked on to the stage and the concert really began. “And now a message from Frank Sinatra….,” is what we heard from the speakers, followed by Sinatra’s voice from an old recording, introducing, “The greatest singer in the world,” and the one and only Tony Bennett walked into the stage. Bennett opened with “Watch What Happens” and his stride was casual yet clearly aware of what his presence brings to those my parents and grandparents age, a sea of memories — a theme that continued throughout the evening.
Almost every song began with a short introduction from Bennett that read more like a poem and left me unsure if it was actually written into the song. “They All Laughed” and “This Is All I Ask” followed and Tony Bennet, at his 90-years, yes you read right 9-0, proved that he still certainly has it. It was more than just his perfect pitch, rhythmic accuracy and breathing control. It was the whole attitude and energy he exerted that really encompassed why a singer whose first song was released in 1951 is still dropping records and winning awards like it’s nobody’s business. Bennett certainly knows it, joking, “I recorded this song with Lady Gaga because she needed the money.” It’s difficult to say the resulting nervous laughter was because the audience was struck by the odd pairing or because they didn’t know who Lady Gaga is.
The night continued with more masterful solos, Bennett’s still nearly perfect raspy voice, and a delighted audience. Yet a constant distraction became apparent after a fews songs in – a huge teleprompter-like screen on the left side of the stage which kept spilling the words that Bennett sang and said throughout the concert. Not only was it distracting but it also took a bit of the charm of the evening as it made you feel as if everything he said was coming from a pre-planned script. It wasn’t until he sang “Rags To Riches” that we realized there was somebody carefully and quickly typing everything he said because the screen read “I know I’d go from rages to rations,” which was quickly corrected.
At his 90-years, Bennet voice is nothing but timeless and his charm really encompasses why he is one of America’s most beloved singers. His voice, just like wine, has gotten better with time. But no one is immortal. What used to be elongated solos had been cut shot, replaced with punctual and well crafted endings.
Bennett closed with an a cappella version of “Fly Me to the Moon.” Not only did he creatively rearrange the entire syncopation of the song, he performed with no mic and no band to back him up, a true American classic with such ease and grace that had the audience standing in complete silence, mesmerized by a single man’s voice.