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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Music

Tony Bennett kept it simple and smooth at The Riverside Friday night. (PHOTO: Sara Bill)

Tony Bennett owns the throne at the Riverside


The temple was open Friday night and an adoring crowd ranging from grade schoolers to veterans of the wars of life bowed down to the almighty king of the world of music.

Tony Bennett, all 87 years of him, stood quietly onstage at the glorious Riverside Theater and minimized his way into the hearts of all who saw him.

He wore a dark suit, a dark tie, a white shirt and a small splash of red in his breast pocket. The red was the only daring thing all night.

Bennett is the clear chairman of the "less is more club" as his music seems to get quieter as the evening wore on. He is the definition of simplicity and cleanliness in music. Nothing extra here. No histrionics. Just a great band and a great singer.

The prime example this incredible approach to music came with the great "The Way You Look Tonight" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.

Bennett and his renowned guitarist Gray Sargent stood side by side. Sargent set the key and Bennett moved the song forward, slowly, step by step. You can see a video of the two of them creating their easy magic here.

It's hard to grasp how long Bennett has been part of the American music consciousness.

His first break came when Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in a Greenwich Village gig in 1949.

That's 65 years ago, and Bennett has had big days, bad days and big days again. Watch him closely and watch people watching him and it's easy to see why he is so dear to so many.

He is very careful with a song. It's as if he has spent hour after hour breaking the song down and putting it back together just the way it should be. It's what he hears in a song and he shares that gift easily.

"Just In Time" the standard by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, gets the kind of gentle treatment that commands intense focus. Bennett stands straight, leaning against the piano, his right hand in his pocket and his right foot tapping the beat.

As the song slides to an end he raises his right fist and signals a stop for his outstanding four piece band. Bennett is a gracious man, featuring each musician and giving them both space and applause.

But make no mistake about it. This is a man in total control of his music and his life. And he was in total control of the 2,000 or so fans who were graced by his presence.

There is a space in our musical tapestry that has belonged to Bennett for decades. This is a man who sang "My Kind of Town" with Frank Sinatra. You can see that video here.

People have tried for years to come up with the perfect description for Bennett. He's been called a jazz singer, a pop singer, a crooner, an interpreter of the American songbook. He is all of those.

But most of all, the Tony Bennett who was at the Riverside is a soul singer. Each song, each note, each smiling step in time to the music, came from deep inside this man's soul.

And all of us who were there were happy for the touch he gave each of us.


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