Last week was the birthday of Tony Bennett.
Tony Bennett just turned 95, did two sellout shows with Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall and announced his retirement from performing after at least 60 years of performing. I did have the privilege of interviewing him in 2004/5 and singing, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, with him. He was generous and kind. I am happy to know that he has a loving family around him now that he is retired from the stage. His son says it is not because he can’t perform anymore but the difficulties of travel make it impossible to facilitate his touring. When I learned of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis I was very sad. (On the clip you hear of us singing together I forgot the words of the last A section and he saved our performance. It made for great radio 🙂
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Another singer close to me was also afflicted with the same disease. My mother. She wasn’t a professional singer but how she loved music! I realized after many years of studying music (voice, piano, flute, trombone, solfege, etc, etc) that my real music teacher was my mother. She taught me to appreciate music and recognize composers and pieces of music. She played recordings of all the great opera stars, all the broadway musicals. This came in handy when I became a jazz musician, because I already knew many of the repertoire.
At the end of her life, when she was unable to recognize me or even speak to me, I would sing songs I remember her singing, and she would sing along. When she could no longer sing, the recreational therapist at her home suggested we play CDs of her favourite arias and classical pieces. An expression of, “I know that!” would flash against her face when she recognized a melody. It didn’t matter if it was now played on a different instrument or arrangement.
It was wonderful that we could still share music together.