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LIGHTWEIGHT MEMOIR FROM BENNETT
on November 26, 2012
This is yet another book (probably) released (along with a separate DVD with a similar title) in time to capture the Christmas market. Is it an essential book on Tony Bennett? No. Is it interesting? Yes, in spots. If you've read any of the decent biographies (or his autobiography) on Bennett, you won't glean much new information in this memoir on Bennett or his music. I can't comment on the DVD. And before anyone wonders, I'm a long time fan of Bennett's singing (especially his early work), and his artwork. The fact that he can still function at the high level he does is remarkable, and I only hope I can do the same in my life.
The book is written in a relaxed, conversational style, which is nice. But the information is pretty lightweight. This is more Bennett's philosophy of life, rather than a look at his life. There's a couple of sections of photographs, which back up Bennett's musings on life and his career. Also included are some of Bennett's pen and ink drawings, which (for me) are the highpoint. I only wish he would publish a book with his many drawings and studies of all the musicians he's come across in his life.
The chapters are fairly short and easy to read, but there's some interesting (and informative I suppose) asides included about his life and the many fascinating performers he came in contact with. That's what I zeroed in on-the little bits about other musicians and performers. An example-how he almost missed out on recording his (perhaps) most well known song, "I Left My Heart in San Fransisco". Or his thoughts on Louis Armstrong, or working with Duke Ellington. These inside looks at performers and their music, give music fans a little look "behind the curtain" if you will.
Bennett also includes throughout the book his "The Zen of Bennett" thoughts, which are interesting, but aren't exactly deep. As examples-"Nature is the master artist. Killing is the lowest form of human behavior. Be determined to persevere, even in the face of criticism. Do something to improve yourself, every single day." While these are true for the most part for everyone, and Bennett is trying to show something about himself, they don't exactly speak to anything truly new and informative about the man and/or his music.
Throughout the book Bennett talks about the many stars and well known people he knows and/or has come across during his long, fantastic career-people like Jimmy Durante, Mitch Miller, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Cary Grant, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Bill Evans (his duets with Evans are simply great), Aretha Franklin, Bill Clinton, Robert De Niro, his family (of course), and so on.
But anyone thinking this is a truly "inside", in-depth look into Bennett's life and music-by Bennett, should reread the title of the book. "Life is a Gift-The Zen of Bennett". That, and the large, designed-to-catch-the-eye portrait of Bennett, that takes up most of the cover. That's the tip-off that there's nothing truly new or earth shattering in the book. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Does it begin with his early days, and progress through his life? Yes. But only in the most superficial way. And that's okay. His easy going style of writing is very relaxed, almost as if you're having a chat with the man. Ultimately, this lightweight read is okay as (possibly) an addendum to other books about Bennett. But if you're looking for an in depth memoir/autobiography, look elsewhere.
Mr. Bennett is a national treasure as far as I'm-and obviously many others worldwide-are concerned. The world will be a poorer place when he passes. He's an artist of obviously great talent in two (!) areas. Certainly he doesn't (I hope) need the money he'll glean from this book (and DVD). At this stage of the game, Mr. Bennett needs to let his music and his artwork speak for him-something easily accomplished in light of so many fine recordings, and now over the years, his sensitively executed artwork. This apparent exploitation of his "name" doesn't do the man any favors. His music and art do.