Tanglewood Jazz Festival 2005 – Tony Bennett

Tanglewood Jazz Festival
Tony Bennett with the Count Basie Orchestra

September 3, 2005
by Matthew S. Robinson

Having made a few rounds with some of today’s finest female vocalists (Diana Krall, kd lang, etc.), Tony Bennett has more recently been going back to the bands that helped make his special style of music so special.

After a successful stint with the Artie Shaw orchestra, Bennett took a swing with Count Basie’s band, led by 50-year Basie veteran Bill Hughes.

The Orchestra got it started (appropriately enough) with a sonically uneven rendition of Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band.” After the groovy punches of Ernie Wilkins’ “Right On” (featuring Marshall McDonald’s fleet and fluid flute). “Down for the Count” was a knockout with Basie’s signature sound of 13 horns playing as one. After veteran bari-sax man John Williams’ romantically resonant solo on Harry Carney’s “You’re in My Heart Again” and the rhythmic showcase of “Vine Street Rumble,” the band brought out vocalist Melba Joyce, who filled the shed with a Nancy Wilson-esque version of “All of Me” before the band took a “One O’Clock Jump” off stage.

Minutes later, the Orchestra’s brass section returned, to be joined by pianist/musical director Lee Muskier, guitarist Gray Sergeant, bassist Paul Langosch, former Basie drummer Harold Jones and, of course, the unstoppable Tony Bennett. Kicking off this unique Berkshire B&B (i.e., Bennett & Basie), Tony launched into a hopeful “Watch What Happens” and a quick-step through “The Best is Yet to Come” before settling down for a heartfelt “Maybe This Time” that featured Musiker on an extended solo break. Going back to his ethnic and geographical roots, Bennett offered a swing through “O Sole Mio” early on and then later sang “Just a Little Street” in honor of his hometown of Astoria, NY. It was Bennett’s financial tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina (to whom he offered the proceeds of the sold-out show), however, that made his tearful take on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” all the more affecting and elicited one of many standing ovations.

In an effort to return the set to its presiding theme of energetic fun, Bennett and his boys snapped into “I Got Rhythm” before Musiker made the sprawling lawns of Tanglewood intimate again with a solo of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” After a full band jam on “In a Mellow Tone,” Bennett reminded his jazz-leaning audience what usually makes Tanglewood so special with a violin-laced “Sophisticated Lady” before reminding all music fans that “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t got That Swing)” – a lesson he sent them dancing off with into the warm late Summer night.

© 2005, M. S. Robinson, ARR