Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tony Bennett on João Gilberto

What Makes Tony Bennett Swoon
USA Weekend
Sept. 11, 2011

Oh, the good life: Tony Bennett still has it, and he'll be the first to tell you so. On his 85th birthday (this past Aug. 3), the legendary singer beams as he greets a guest in his art studio overlooking Manhattan's Central Park. He is impeccably dressed, in a snazzy suit and tie, but the smidgen of green on his left hand betrays that morning's activity: painting, Bennett's other great love.

"I've had a lot of nice birthdays," Bennett says. "When I was 70, my son Danny had a party for me at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was unbelievable. But this one is really my favorite. I'm really content with my whole life right now." As he should be: Bennett releases his second collection of superstar collaborations, Duets II, on Sept. 20; the album teams him with famous fans such as Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Andrea Bocelli, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Lady Gaga and the late Amy Winehouse, with whom Bennett recorded in March.

There's also a new box set due later this year, Tony Bennett -- The Complete Collection, consisting of 73 CDs and three DVDs spanning "every record I've made, from 1950 till now." And on Sept. 18, the veteran star will throw a belated birthday bash after his debut gig at Manhattan's Metropolitan Opera House. The post-show event, hosted by Alec Baldwin and featuring a performance by Elton John, will benefit Bennett's Exploring the Arts, an organization that supports and funds arts education throughout New York City's five boroughs.

So what does the octogenarian who has everything do in his free time? Bennett took out a few moments to tell us what's on his…

CD player: "Joao Gilberto, from Brazil. I love him because he's just so honest and uncompromising. He sings beautiful music without any tricks, just acoustic guitar and a beautiful orchestra behind him. He sings in a whisper but with great intonation. I could listen to him all day long."

Bookshelf: "Gay Talese is writing a piece on me for The New Yorker. I have his major book right here, Unto the Sons, which is amazing. This is the whole history of his family. His family is from Calabria, the very southern tip of Italy, and so is mine. We're very similar; his mother was a seamstress, my mother was a seamstress. His father was a great tailor, and to this day he's one of the best-dressed men in the world on a daily basis. So it's been very interesting to read this book and to get to know him personally."

Vacation plans: "I've always had a dream about going to the Thousand Islands, just below Canada. I grew up during the Depression, and my mother and father had a very tough time raising three children. The only relief that ever had was a vacation they would take out in the Thousand Islands. As a child I thought that must be paradise. I'd never seen them, but I have friends who have been there who say that I'm right. So the day after my birthday, for the first time in my life, my wife and I are going up there for four days, to just relax and paint and read Gay Talese."

Movie-viewing plans: "There's one woman I love so much -- my wife Susan and I both do: Helen Mirren. We're big fans of hers, love to see her in anything."

Wish list: "I'm blessed with the fact that I've got my health. My wish is for that to continue, so that I'll never retire. I want to keep working till the day I die -- because my work is not work to me. I'm doing the two things that I love -- I sing and I paint. And there's so much to learn about both mediums. It's a great adventure; my life is a great, enjoyable life."

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