Swiftly approaching his staggering 90th birthday, revered Italian crooner Tony Bennett shows no signs of retiring just yet. Always a perennial guest on the late night talk show circuit, particularly Johnny Carson, Bennett befriended successor Conan O’Brien in 1993, debuting during the first season of Late Night with Conan O’Brien when the lanky, carrot-topped Irishman was struggling mightily to retain his late-night perch in the midst of scathing reviews.
On Dec. 11, 2009, mere six weeks before O’Brien controversially abdicated his seven and a half month reign as host of The Tonight Show, Bennett continued his annual holiday tradition of appearing on O’Brien’s late night show with a laid-back performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” first recorded in the studio for 1968’s Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album and subsequently given a Count Basie band arrangement exactly 40 years later on A Swingin’ Christmas, to thunderous applause. The occasion marked his 16th and apparently final appearance with O’Brien for reasons that are unclear as of this writing.
With a four-piece combo featuring band leader Lee Musiker on piano, former Count Basie sideman Harold Jones on drums, Gray Sargent on electric guitar, and Paul Langosch on stand-up bass, Bennett and band were in fine form.
Frank Sinatra referred to Bennett as his favorite singer on numerous occasions, and listening to Bennett breathe life into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” felt like a fine wine. Scatting playfully during the song’s verses, Bennett encouraged both piano and guitar solos as the audience signaled their approval.
Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band lent their considerable musical chops to the song’s exciting finish. Though he may not be able to hit every high note as in years past, Bennett truly proved why he is such an esteemed interpreter of America’s jazz tapestry.
After the rousing performance, O’Brien invited his very special guest to sit down for a mini interview. Recalling his appearance on the very first episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 47 years earlier, Bennett listed actress Joan Crawford and comedians Groucho Marx and Mel Brooks as also appearing on that historic television moment.
Bennett remembered, “At the end of the show we all got up and Johnny said, “That’s the first show, let’s see how it goes.” O’Brien chimed in, “It worked out pretty well.” He wasn’t kidding, as Carson went on to helm 30 hugely successful seasons of The Tonight Show that have never been duplicated.
It was also interesting when Bennett revealed that he had signed a new contract with Columbia Sony Records. Bennett must hold a world record for remaining with a label for such an extended period—since 1951 in fact—barring a wilderness period between 1972 and 1986 when substance addiction, an indifferent attitude to recording, and plummeting record sales because of changing listening trends made him seem passé.
Before signing off, Bennett revealed his next album would be a jazz project with Stevie Wonder, and Quincy Jones would serve as producer. Such an extended collaboration has inexplicably not materialized, although two duets are available—”Everyday (I Have the Blues)” [available on 2001’s Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues and “For Once in My Life” [i.e. the bestselling Duets: An American Classic 2006 project].
If it was indeed Bennett’s final occasion with O’Brien, he went out in fabulous style. A video isn’t available online, but you can watch an earlier 2004 visit to Late Night when the “Cold, Cold Heart” balladeer raised the roof delivering “All I Want for Christmas” above.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! “Dad taught me to keep going and learn it all. He was capable of doing everything—the epitome of a true entertainer.” Dean Martin’s lovely daughter, Deana, keeps the limelight planted firmly on her family, performing and recording her dad’s material all around the world. Deana recently agreed to explore a side of the crooner rarely discussed in modern literature: a man of simple country music tastes versus the cliché-ridden, glitzy Vegas image. In “Deana Martin Can’t Help Remembering the Swingin’ King of Cool,” Dino’s daughter shares heretofore unheard memories regarding John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, family vacations, guitars, horses, watching old Westerns with Sammy Davis, Jr., golf, and their poignant, final Christmas spent together.
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Exclusive Interview: Easy listening song interpreter B.J. Thomas won a well-deserved Grammy for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” after it appeared on the soundtrack of the legendary Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In “Just a Regular Guy With a Burning Desire to Sing…”, the effortless “Hooked on a Feeling” singer exclusively recalls amazing stories about arriving in Memphis in the late ’60s and singing for Elvis Presley, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and having buckets of rain inexplicably thrown on his head, opening for the notoriously temperamental James Brown, his conflict with the Contemporary Christian industry, and his most popular album in 30 years, the duets-laden Living Room Sessions, recorded in Nashville.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Marshall Terrill has written three captivating Elvis Presley tomes with close friends and a ravishing former flame of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Terrill readily admits, “I’ve always tried to approach the Elvis story from an outsider’s perspective with a lot of common sense and no excuses. Many people in the Elvis World come to the subject matter with their minds made up, lines drawn in the sand, and have pegged everyone as either a hero or villain.” In “Gauging Elvis Presley’s Shakespearean Destiny from an Outsider’s Perspective,” the celebrity biographer scrutinizes how Elvis’ inspired performances often hinged on his level of instrumental commitment, why the artist didn’t compose more material, how lifestyle choices gradually diminished his recording career, the often pointless Elvis vs. Beatles debate, and the shocking degree of entanglement degenerate gambler Colonel Tom Parker became mired in with the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel to his client’s detriment.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Three Stooges will never win an armload of awards from the critical elite. So then why does the trio’s brilliantly timed comedy routines continue to age like vintage red wine? Moe Howard, with his jet black hair styled as a bowl cut, was always the forceful, bossy leader. Younger brother Curly possessed improvisational genius and uttered numerous catchphrases with abandon (e.g. “Nyuk, nyuk” and “I’m a victim of coicumstance!”). The frizzy-haired Larry Fine was caught somewhere in-between, often receiving the brunt of Moe’s slaps and eye pokes. Much like his character on-screen, Larry was a happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t worry about keeping money for very long and always found time to meet with his fans. Biographer Steve Cox usually maintains an extremely low online profile but fortunately agreed to speak at length about his fascination for the Three Stooges in “Paging Larry Fine: Author Steve Cox Recalls the Lovable Three Stooges Numbskull.”
- Further Reading: Like their alter egos, comedy duo Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were seemingly joined at the hip. Griffith played his role with supreme confidence, often acting the straight-man to Knotts’ outlandish antics. Lost for nearly 50 years, a video clip has recently been unearthed from a CBS variety special entitled The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, and Jim Nabors Show. It features the actors in living color reprising Sheriff Andy Taylor and Barney Fife on a vast soundstage. Released in October 1965, mere months after Knotts controversially departed The Andy Griffith Show for a short-lived career on the big screen, the video proves that the actors were masters of comedic timing and relished performing together in front of a live audience. The comedy team later collaborated in a funny yet touching 1967 episode, “Barney Comes to Mayberry”, that landed Knotts his fifth and final Emmy. Both features are only a click away…
Further Reading No. 2: Late night TV watchers were likely stunned when Craig Ferguson appeared as a guest on a rival network, especially considering the fact that his boss is David Letterman. Regardless, Ferguson’s guest spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was full of laughs and offered numerous insights into the life of a traveling stand-up comedian. To read about the noteworthy appearance and peruse numerous photos and a video of Ferguson’s complete interview, visit the following link: “TV’s Craig Ferguson Visits Jay Leno For The First Time In 14 Years”.
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