He may have left his heart in San Francisco, but Tony Bennett will always be a kid from Queens.
Bennett’s storied career as a singer, artist and entertainer has spanned decades and the 92-year-old is still looking for new challenges and collaborations.
His new book “Tony Bennett: On Stage and in the Studio” features photos, notes, artwork, album covers and other memorabilia. Bennett will be signing copies on Thursday at The BookMark Shoppe in Bay Ridge. He answered some questions from amNewYork (via email, edited for clarity) about the book, growing up in Queens and working with “Lady.”
How do you think growing up in the city prepared you for your career?
I was very fortunate as I had an uncle who used to be hoofer on Broadway, and although he gave up the stage he got a job at the Broadway Theater in NYC. So I would often get to see standing in the back.
One of my favorite memories of that time was when Maurice Chevalier came to perform and I was able to watch his rehearsal and see his performances in the evenings — being exposed to such a legendary talent was absolutely thrilling. I think that is what growing up in NYC really gifted to me growing up is getting the exposure to Broadway and jazz clubs. After WWII under the GI Bill of Rights I was able to study at the American Theatre Wing and I had a vocal coach named Mimi Speer who had her studio on 52nd Street, which back then was the location for all the jazz clubs. So I would spend all the time I could in the clubs as Mimi advised me since she knew how much I loved jazz, to listen to jazz musicians I admire and try to emulate them as a vocalist. And then when Bob Hope came to see Pearl Bailey, who had brought me on as a singer in her show at the Village Inn, and asked me to come join his show at the Paramount Theatre it was like something out of a Hollywood movie. So those opportunities were very much a part of being in the arts in New York City.
Of all the photos, stories and artifacts included in the book, can you single out one or two favorites?
It’s pretty wonderful for me to have a chance to see the new book now that it is published, as you tend to forget all the wonderful items and events you accumulate and experience over the years. [It is] documented so beautifully, it is just terrific. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s all happened as I still feel like I am just getting started and have so much more to do. I was ten years younger than Sinatra and was one of the original bobby soxers just like everyone else when Frank hit it big, so the photo that he autographed to me, which is reproduced in the book, is probably on the top of my list.
You have worked with Lady Gaga in the studio and on stage. How is the dynamic and energy different in each setting?
Well, whenever I am with “Lady,” as I like to call her, it’s always different and dynamic — even if we are just sitting down having a conversation. I love to keep my recording sessions like a live performance as much as possible, which is why I always have the musicians right in the room with me when I record. So that is how we did the “Cheek to Cheek” album. We wanted to keep the sessions very authentic and spontaneous and fun. So when we toured together, we were already in a great place for live performance and I just marvel at how prepared she always was and how much the audience responded to her and loves her. She gives so much of herself and that will always be evident in everything she does. I know that she has a long career ahead of her and will be a big hit in the movies too.
You have collaborated with so many people over the years, is there anyone you have not worked with who you would still like to work with?
I met Beyoncé backstage at the Grammys and she said she would like to work together. She is another artist who gives her all to everything she does and knows how to really communicate with an audience, so I hope that we get the chance to sing together.
IF YOU GO
Thursday, October 11. The BookMark Shoppe, 8415 3rd Avenue, Bay Ridge. $35. Limited tickets are available and you must purchase the book at the store