MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, we’re continuing our ongoing tribute to the late Tony Bennett, who passed away this year at age 96. In this episode, I’ll be exploring the last part of his career. In 1986, after a long battle with addiction, Bennett returned to the recording studio with a focus on music of the past. At this point, he was nearing 60 years old. But this late-career revival led to a string of successes that stretched for nearly 30 more years. I’ll highlight some of these late recordings this hour.
It’s Tony Bennett’s Last Laugh, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "ALL FOR YOU"
Tony Bennett, from his 2004 album The Art Of Romance, with the song “All For You.” The melody was written in 1940 by French guitarist Django Reinhart. He gave it the title “Nuages” or “Clouds.” Lyrics have been added more than once, both in French and English, including one with the title “The Bluest Kind of Blues.” These English lyrics for “All For You” were written by Bennett himself, his only original song. [:25]
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "THEY ALL LAUGHED"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re taking a close look at the latter part of the career of Tony Bennett.
Usually when you talk about an artist’s “late career revival,” you might mention a single album or song made past the age of 50 or 60 that still showcases the artist’s excellence. For Tony Bennett, however, this late career revival, beginning at age 60, stretched for 30 more years, and included 18 Grammy Awards. There’s a reason that critic Gary Giddins once said that Tony Bennett had, quote, “the longest last laugh in history.”
Most of the late 1970s and early 1980s for Bennett were rough. He had resounding success in the 1950s and 60s, some artistic success in the 1970s, including albums with Bill Evans, but now, his marriage was falling apart, his finances were a mess, and his dependency on drugs was getting out of hand. In 1979, he nearly died from a cocaine overdose, and looked to his son Danny to help him refind his way. He knew he didn’t want to lose his artistic integrity. So he hired Danny as his manager, and he worked to redevelop his sound.
He succeeded by sticking to what he did best: performing classic songs from the American songbook is his inimitable style. By the 1980s, there was an entire generation who were unfamiliar with this music, so Bennett thought he could be the ambassador.
In 1986, he resigned with Columbia Records, the label that made him famous in the 1950s, and released the album The Art Of Excellence. He started working again with his former pianist Ralph Sharon.
Let’s start with a track from that album. This is Tony Bennett in 1986 with the 1964 Jack Segal and Robert Wells tune, “What Are You Afraid Of,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "WHEN I LOST YOU"
Tony Bennett in 1987 from his album Bennett/Berlin. That was the 1912 Irving Berlin ballad “When I Lost You.” Before that, we heard Bennett in 1986 from his comeback album The Art of Excellence with the Jack Segal and Robert Wells song “What Are You Afraid Of.”
In 1990, Tony Bennett was now celebrating the milestone of 40 years as a recording artist. He marked this occasion with his mostly retrospective album Astoria: Portrait Of The Artist. The album featured a literal “portrait of the artist as a young man” on the cover, a photograph of a young Tony Bennett standing on a street corner in his hometown of Astoria, Queens. On the back of the album, the now 63-year-old Bennett recreated the same photo.
The album also features some musical recreations, including a recreation of one of his first big hit songs from 1950, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Let’s hear that later version now.
This is Tony Bennett in 1990 with “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "THE BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS"
Tony Bennett, off of his 1990 album Astoria: Portrait of The Artist. That was the Harry Warren and Al Dubin song “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a song that Bennett made into a hit single 40 years earlier.
Astoria: Portrait Of The Artist also marked another milestone for Tony Bennett: it earned him his first Grammy nomination in 25 years. Although he lost that Grammy for Best Male Jazz Vocal Performance, it kicked off a series of Grammy successes for Tony. His next album, 1992’s Perfectly Frank, was nominated for the fairly new category of “Best Traditional Pop Album,” and it won. In fact, Tony Bennett’s next five albums won this award. Over the next several decades he would go on to win the award 14 times.
That album in question Perfectly Frank was a tribute album to his friend Frank Sinatra, performing songs that Ol’ Blue Eyes made famous. For a period of time in the 1990s, many of Bennett’s albums were tribute records to past artists and the songs they popularized. So let’s hear a track from his Frank Sinatra and his Fred Astaire tribute album from a year later.
First up, this is Tony Bennett in 1992 with a song Sinatra sang in the 1947 film It Happened In Brooklyn. This is Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “Time After Time,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "TIME AFTER TIME"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "THEY ALL LAUGHED"
Tony Bennett in 1993 from his Fred Astaire tribute album Steppin’ Out, performing the Gershwin song “They All Laughed.” Before that, we heard Bennett in 1992 from his Frank Sinatra tribute album Perfectly Frank performing the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn tune “Time After Time.” Both of those albums won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Album.
Bennett’s next two studio albums were also tribute albums, and they also each won the Grammy Award For Best Traditional Pop album. The first from 1995 was titled Here’s To The Ladies and paid tribute to many of his favorite female singers over the years, including Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan and others. The next album, On Holiday from 1997, paid tribute to one particular female singer: Billie Holiday.
I’ll play now a track from each. We’ll start with Bennett’s tribute to the late great Judy Garland. This is Tony Bennett in 1995 with Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "OVER THE RAINBOW"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "ALL OF ME"
Tony Bennett in 1997 from his studio album On Holiday, a tribute to Billie Holiday. We heard the tune “All Of Me,” a tune Holiday recorded in 1941. Before that, a song from his 1995 album Here’s To The Ladies, and a track paying tribute to Judy Garland. That was “Over The Rainbow.”
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "ALL OF ME"
We’ll hear more of Tony Bennett’s late-period music in just a bit, stay with us. I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ, "TIME AFTER TIME"
MUSIC CLIP - MILES DAVIS, "IT'S ONLY A PAPER MOON"
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring Tony Bennett’s comeback this hour, his late career surge that stretched for over 30 years.
In 1998, Tony Bennett turned 72 years old, and this year he released an album aimed at an entirely new generation—not the kids, but the grandkids. His album The Playground was an album of children’s songs from the American songbook, including some songs about kids, some Disney songs written for children, and some songbook favorites that would appeal to children. And for good measure, he had a couple of kid-friendly guests join him for a couple of numbers, including Kermit The Frog and Elmo.
Let’s hear one track from that record now. This is one of the songbook favorites that Bennett thought would particularly jibe with kids. This is Tony Bennett with Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, and Billy Rose’s “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "IT'S ONLY A PAPER MOON"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "DO NOTHIN' TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME"
Tony Bennett from his 1999 album Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool. That was the Duke Ellington and Bob Russell song “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.” Before that, we heard “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” from his 1998 kids album The Playground.
When the 21st century began, Tony Bennett decided to spend his time in the recording studio with some of his friends. In 2001, he released the album Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues, an album of all blues songs featuring duets with notable singers like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, and many others. This duet model was created about a decade earlier with Frank Sinatra’s celebrated album Duets, featuring the singer teaming up with many singers both young and old, to perform timeless hits. Tony Bennett continued this legacy for the next 20 years, recording eight duet records in total, some teaming him up with various artists from the American and Latin American music industry, and others teaming him up with specific artists like k.d. lang or Lady Gaga.
I want to sample now from several of these duet records. I’ll begin with a track from his first duet record from 2001, Playin’ With My Friends. This is Tony Bennett and Diana Krall with the 1955 blues song “ Alright, Okay, You Win,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, FEAT. DIANA KRALL, "ALRIGHT, OKAY, YOU WIN"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, FEAT. K.D. LANG, "YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, FEAT. LADY GAGA, "THE LADY IS A TRAMP"
A couple of duets between Tony Bennett and other artists. Just now, we heard him and Lady Gaga in 2011 performing the Rodgers and Hart tune “The Lady Is A Tramp,” off of the album Duets II. Bennett and Lady Gaga would record two more complete duet albums together after this recording, including Bennett’s final studio album Love For Sale, released in 2021. Before that, we heard him in 2002 with singer k.d. lang performing the song “You Can Depend On Me.” That comes from their duet album titled A Wonderful World. And starting that set, Bennett and Diana Krall in 2001 with “Alright, Okay, You Win,” from the album Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues. Bennett and Krall would record their own duet album together in 2018 titled Love Is Here To Stay.
Tony Bennett retired from performing in 2021, right around the time his final recording with Lady Gaga was released. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, making performing difficult for the singer, now aged 95. He performed once more in Radio City Music Hall, a concert that was later televised on CBS. Bennett passed away nearly two years later on July 21, 2023, just a few weeks before his 97th birthday. His longevity in the music business earned him several Guinness World Records, including the longest span of top-10 albums on the Billboard charts, and the oldest person to release an album of new material.
To close off this tribute, I’d like to feature a few tracks from the album that, in my estimation, really cemented his late career legacy, and that’s the 1994 album MTV Unplugged. The MTV Unplugged series in the 1990s was a sensation, featuring artists performing on mostly acoustic instruments. The series showcased both contemporary artists like Nirvana and legacy artists like Eric Clapton. Tony Bennett’s was special—he was the only pre-rock ‘n’ roll musician to perform on the series, and he showed the MTV generation the beauty of these old songs, sung in an authentic and heartfelt style. Plus at one point in the concert, during a performance of the song “Fly Me To The Moon,” he showed the audience the true meaning of “unplugged.”
Let’s hear that now. This is Tony Bennett from MTV Unplugged recorded in 1994 with “Fly Me To The Moon,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "FLY ME TO THE MOON (LIVE)"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO (LIVE)"
Tony Bennett live in 1994 from his Grammy-award winning, platinum-selling album MTV Unplugged, with “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” And thanks for tuning in to this late-career Tony Bennett edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - GEORGE SHEARING, "THEY ALL LAUGHED"
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