Tony Bennett at The Royal Albert Hall, London.

Tony Bennett leaves his heart in The Royal Albert Hall.

28 June 2019.

By Paul Davies.

“GOOD EVENING ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Tony Bennett show”, came the announcement as The Tony Bennett Quartet nonchalantly entered the stage to vamp up the crowd during a short set of swinging tunes.

Then followed Bennett’s special guest, Donna Byrne, to classily chirp a sultry support set of jazz classics. Ramping up expectations, she stated her gratitude revealing: “it’s a privilege to be opening this show for the greatest singer ever...Mr Tony Bennett!”

A short intermission followed as Bennett’s warmed up devotees dashed to the bar to chill with a cocktail before the hottest show in town commenced.

Bennett clearly relishes singing at The Royal Albert Hall, where he has already appeared twenty times, as he ran onto the stage to a pre-recorded intro by his mentor Frank Sinatra.

A few knowing asides to his advancing years as he wryly sang “I’m still in my prime”, Bennett caught the outpouring of love and adulation in his crossed arms.

Spritely moving across the stage in time to Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’, Ellington’s ‘In My Solitude’ then brought out raptures of acclamation as he hit the top notes with dynamic gusto.

Cherished for the slight bit of grit in the oyster timbre of his huge voice, Bennett produced a masterful interpretation of the American Songbook.

It’s almost an epiphany to see and hear four classy musicians playing with very little amplification, apart from guitarist Gray Sargent’s small amp cabinet, and fill this hall with a big, smooth and swinging sound.

Just shy of 93, ‘Im Old Fashioned’ found Bennett walking around his players as they rolled out their highly skilled chops on their chosen instruments. With the spotlight on them, Bennett encouraged the audience to appreciate musicianship of the highest order.

Both he and guitarist Sargent also played a few songs together as a duo. On ‘But Beautiful’ they hushed the hall to a reverential pin drop. These magical moments continued throughout tonight’s spellbinding set.

This is really no surprise given the calibre of Marshall Wood on double bass, Harold Jones on drums and Tom Ranier on piano also playing a masterclass of jazz.

His first hit song ‘Because of You’ reminded of Bennett’s longevity in this fickle business.

With his well documented periods of depression and drug use now decades behind him, the past thirty plus years has seen a justified renaissance for this much loved artist as he nailed Sacha Distel’s ‘The Good Life’.

Outside San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, where he first sang ‘(I Left My Heart in) San Francisco’ in 1961, stands a huge Tony Bennett statue. Lifelike as it may be, the still sprite Bennett resembled an animated legend hewn masterfully from Carrera marble, as he stood to absorb the biggest round of applause of the evening for this classic song.

Final song of an enthralling show, ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ revealed a singer who has taken giant strides across the world’s most prestigious stages as he milked the applause in this venerable hall.

Repeatedly returning to the stage, like a lap honour to soak up the praise, Tony Bennett, and his band, fully deserved each and every handclap tonight.

Many artists assume the Great American Songbook as being their own. Yet, none inhabit and totally own it quite like this crooner extraordinaire.

Mr Tony Bennett’s legend continues to grow as big and long as his shadow, stretching across this stage of superstars, under the intense starry lights of this colosseum of champions.

Paul Davies