MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Tony Bennett has been such a staple of traditional American pop music for so many years—over 60 years, in fact—that it’s hard to even think about what the music world was like when he was still an unknown. The thing that sets Bennett apart from his peers is really his consistency over the years, and that consistent style is present even in his early recordings. This week on the show, we’ll explore the early years of Tony Bennett, looking at some of the LPs he recorded for Columbia Records in the 1950s and early 1960s
It’s Tony Bennett’s Early Columbia LPs, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING”
Tony Bennett in 1960 with the Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler song “I’ve Got The World On A String,” a song originally written for a Cotton Club performance in 1932. That recording comes from Bennett’s 1960 Columbia LP Tony Bennett Sings A String Of Harold Arlen, arrangements by Glenn Osser
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the early years of singer Tony Bennett.
Tony Bennett, born Anthony Bennedetto in Queens on August 3, 1926, started his singing career, of all places, in the army, as he served in Europe during World War II. After the war, he returned to New York where he began performing his own distinctive style of jazz and expressive, theatrical pop at nightclubs around town. In 1950, his melodramatic reading of Harry Warren’s old standard “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” got him a recording contract with Mitch Miller’s Columbia Records.
It was a minor success for the label, but his big success wouldn’t come until the next year, when his recording of the little-known song “Because of You” became a number one Billboard hit
His New You accent was thick on the record, but his vocal style cemented then and there. Mitch Miller tried to turn the 24-year-old Tony Bennett into a pop star. However, Bennett wanted to sing older theater songs—jazz standards, as they’re called today—and record them on the new LP format, much like Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole were doing for Capitol Records. Miller obliged, and Bennett recorded the album Cloud Seven with guitarist Chuck Wayne, consisting of standards like “Old Devil Moon,” “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me,” and this next song “I Fall In Love Too Easily.”
Here is Tony Bennett off of his early Columbia LP Cloud Seven, with Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “THESE FOOLISH THINGS”
Tony Bennett in 1956 from his second LP of jazz standards simply titled Tony. That was the 1935 song “These Foolish Things.” Gil Evans was the arranger there, with an orchestra conducted by Ray Conniff. Before that, Bennett in 1954 with Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s 1944 song “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” That comes from Bennett's first Columbia LP of jazz standards titled Cloud Seven. I didn’t know this until I looked it up, but the term “cloud seven” was actually much more popular in the 1950s than the more common phrase today “cloud nine,” although they have the same meaning of “bliss.”
In 1957, Tony Bennett began working with pianist Ralph Sharon, which kicked off a musical partnership that lasted for over 50 years. Bennett and Sharon decided that for his next album of standards, they would try something new in the accompaniment. In addition to your typical jazz combo, they added six percussionists including jazz players Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, and Jo Jones, alongside Afro-Cuban players Candido and Sabu. Together, they infused the record with a Latin beat, calling it The Beat of My Heart.
Here are two songs from that record now, beginning with a standard by Cole Porter. This is Tony Bennett with “Love For Sale,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “LOVE FOR SALE”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “LULLABY OF BROADWAY”
Tony Bennett from the 1957 The Beat Of My Heart with some Latin Percussion versions of two jazz standards. Just now, we heard Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “Lullaby of Broadway,” and before that, Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale.”
Tony Bennett’s next LP for Columbia was a more straight-ahead pop affair, featuring Ralph Sharon at his side again on piano, Herbie Mann on flute, a couple of guitars and harps, and a string orchestra conducted by studio vet Frank De Vol.
Let’s hear two songs from that record now, which highlight Bennett’s intimate and inimitable style. First up, here is another Cole Porter song. This one features the harps and vibes imitating some clock chimes throughout, as a way to express the theme of time ticking away. This is Tony Bennett in 1958 with “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “BLUE MOON”
Two songs from the 1958 Tony Bennett LP Long Ago And Far Away. Just now, we heard Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” and before that Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”
We’ll hear some more of Tony Bennett’s late 50s and early 60s recordings in just a moment, stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some of the early LPs of singer Tony Bennett this hour.
In the late 1950s, Bennett teamed up with one of the most established bandleaders in the country to record two albums: Mr. Count Basie. Basie had a contract with Roulette Records while Bennett had a contract with Columbia, so a two-record deal had to be struck—one LP for each label. At the end of the day, Bennett and Basie’s Orchestra would be featured on both, but Basie himself would only appear on the album for Roulette, while Bennett’s pianist Ralph Sharon could stand-in on the album for Columbia.
The Columbia LP, titled In Person, was supposed to be a recording of a performance in Philadelphia. However, the producer Al Ham didn’t like the end product. He wanted a better stereo recording, so Bennett and Basie’s band were asked to recreate the concert in the studio, and Ham later added canned applause to the final to make it sound like it was live. The result was disappointing, and luckily that applause was taken off the CD reissue.
Let’s hear a track from that album now, plus more from the other Basie/Bennett collaboration. First, here’s a tender version of the Mack Gordon and Harry Warren song “There Will Never Be Another You,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT AND COUNT BASIE’S ORCHESTRA, “THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT AND COUNT BASIE, “WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT AND COUNT BASIE, “ANYTHING GOES”
Two songs featuring Tony Bennett and Count Basie’s Orchestra from the 1959 Roulette album Strike Up The Band. Just now, we heard Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and before that Harry Warren and Al Dubin’ “With Plenty of Money And You.” Starting that set, Bennett and Basie’s Orchestra again, this time with pianist Ralph Sharon sitting in for Basie, from the 1959 Columbia LP In Person. That was another Harry Warren song, “There Will Never Be Another You.”
At the end of 1959, Tony Bennett teamed up again with arranger Frank De Vol, who he worked with on the earlier album Long Ago And Far Away, to record another album of lush standards called To My Wonderful One. The arrangements are quite similar to the earlier album—strings, guitars, and harps. But what makes this particular LP stand out is one track that Bennett considered to be one of his favorites, and that’s Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “September Song.” Let’s hear it now.
This is Tony Bennett in 1959 with “September Song,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “SEPTEMBER SONG”
Tony Bennett in 1959 with one of his signature tunes, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “September Song.” That comes from the 1960 Columbia LP To My Wonderful One, arranged by Frank De Vol.
Tony Bennett’s 1961 Columbia LP Tony Sings For Two might be my favorite album of his from this period. It’s a simple record, featuring just Tony on vocals and his longtime musical partner Ralph Sharon on piano. Over a decade later, Bennett would famously create a pair of duet albums with pianist Bill Evans, but this earlier duet album between Bennett and Sharon rivals it in the way it showcases each musician as well as their intimate connection as artists.
Here are two songs from that duet album now. First up, this is Tony Bennett and pianist Ralph Sharon with the Gus Kahn and Matty Malneck tune “I’m Thru With Love,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “I’M THRU WITH LOVE”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “SKYLARK”
Tony Bennett and his longtime musical partner Ralph Sharon with Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark” and Gus Kahn and Matty Malneck’s “I’m Thru With Love.” Those two songs come from the 1961 Columbia LP Tony Sings For Two.
Tony Bennett had a string of top 10 Billboard pop hits in the early 1950s, but then spent about the next decade focusing mostly on albums, where he recorded mostly jazz standards in his own signature and consistent style. The pop limelight had seemed to pass him by, which rock ‘n’ roll and other acts took over. Then all of a sudden in 1962, Bennett found himself back on top of the pop world with a little song about the City By The Bay. It was Ralph Sharon who discovered the song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” and offered it to Bennett when the two were performing out west. When they recorded it for Columbia Records that year, making it the centerpiece of an LP of the same name, it became an unexpected hit. The song reached the top 20 of the Billboard pop charts, the album reached the top 10, and both the song and Bennett himself won Grammy Awards that year.
Let’s hear that career-defining song now. This is Tony Bennett in 1962 with “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO”
Tony Bennett in 1962 with the song that revived his career, Douglass Cross and George Cory’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
After the unexpected success of this song, Tony Bennett found himself as a best-selling pop star yet again. This success led to an evening engagement at Carnegie Hall—he was the first major male pop star to get such a billing. The live concert was recorded, and the double LP, Tony Bennett At Carnegie Hall, became another best-selling album for Columbia Records.
We’ll close off this hour of music with Tony Bennett’s thrilling live performance at Carnegie Hall. This is “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “PENNIES FROM HEAVEN”
Tony Bennett with Ralph Sharon and his Orchestra live in Carnegie Hall in 1962, with “Rags To Riches” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”
Thanks for tuning in to this look at the early years of Tony Bennett on Afterglow.
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.