Tony Bennett and Bill Evans
"The Tony Bennett and Bill Evans Album"
1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
The strand of vocalists that I most often find myself torn on are the ones who were made for the spotlight. I'm talking about the stars of musicals and the crooners of standards. There's little doubt that these individuals are talented, but in my opinion, their genres of choice often get the better of them. Their style is executed as required, but ends up sound corny as a result. Tony Bennett tends to have this effect on me. Obvious talent, but his usual orchestra or big band accompaniment make him seem like an eventual Vegas night show star. Paring him down and pairing him with jazz pianist Bill Evans honestly helped me reevaluate his routine.
The first benefit of the grouping is the slight shift in tone from Bennett. His vocal color is as bombastic as ever, but the new instrumental style affects his mood. It's easy to imagine. With the support of Count Basie's Orchestra or a similar band, a performer like Bennett can't help but exclaim everything with a grin. A standard like Albert Hague's "Young and Foolish" is lyrically bluesy, but it's tough to tell during many performances. Take away the band and leave Evans, slowly serenading his piano like a player in an empty bar, creates a more wistful mood that pulls Bennett along for the ride. The singer doesn't try to keep a tempo, but delivers tales of regret and heartbreak as if it were an honest lament devised on the spot.
Another benefit from Evans' presence is that listeners get something else to pay attention to aside from Bennett. Again, with the big band approach to jazz, musicians rarely got opportunities to demonstrate improvisation or soloing. Evans is renowned (and controversial) for his modal style of play that allows his right hand to constantly improvise along a mode, versus simply bridging chords. The output from both artists is connected and yet more independent than with common performances of standards. Evans also gets several bridges to himself during tracks like "Young and Foolish" and "Waltz for Debby" (the music to which he also wrote), but it'd be nice to see him get more free time.
So far it seems that I've attributed most of the credit to Evans, but you can't take away from the main attraction. At the time of this recording, Bennett was nearly 50 years old and yet he sounds as strong as on "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." Anyone who's heard his duet with Amy Winehouse from 2011, her last recording, can attest that at 85 he hasn't lost it. Such endurance, from both a vocal and relevance outlook, is impressive.
If you were a fan of Johnny Adams' "The Real Me" from earlier in the blog, "The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album" is definitely for you. Personally, I prefer the former, but Bennett's name in lights might lure more listeners in. After all, he's sold 50 millions records already.
INTERESTING FACT: A lot of musicians embark on a side career as an artist because galleries give them space because big names sell. Bennett on the other hand is a legitimate talent. Aside from the normal gallery gigs, he was named the official painter of the 2001 Kentucky Derby and commissioned to do two paintings for the United Nations. One of his paintings, "Central Park," is also featured in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.