Make no mistake, Bennett rules his world

George Varga

09-Oct-1998 Friday

Tony Bennett

When Tony Bennett sang, You ain't seen nothing yet, at the start of his
Wednesday night concert at El Cajon's East County Performing Arts Center,
it was less a boast than a promise.

By the time he completed his performance 83 minutes later, the man Frank
Sinatra once hailed as "the best singer in the business" had delivered on
that promise and then some. With typically adroit accompaniment from the
Ralph Sharon Quarter, Bennett delivered 26 selections -- including three
encores -- with unwavering grace and charm.

In the process, he took the near-capacity audience in the 1,142-seat
theater on a journey through the great American songbook. Harold Arlen's
"Over the Rainbow," Irving Berlin's "A Foggy Day" and Duke Ellington's
svelte, swinging "It Don't Mean a Thing" were just a few of the gems
Bennett sang. Yet, while he has performed these numbers countless times in
a career that stretches 50 years, he made each sound fresh and vital.

Like the dedicated oil and watercolor painter he is, Bennett shaped and
shaded each note for maximum impact. At 73, he is a master of dynamics and
pacing, and his deep love for jazz was reflected in his fluid phrasing and
harmonically sophisticated arrangements.

His sole flaw was a propensity to belt the endings to "Autumn Leaves" and
other tender ballads that didn't require such dramatic flourishes. These
big endings were at marked odds with his otherwise impeccable sense of

The concert opened with "The Best Is Yet To Come," the first of four
wonderfully intimate duo performances by Bennett and Sharon, his pianist
since the mid-1950s.

They were then joined by guitarist Gray Sergent, bassist Paul Langosch and
drummer Clayton Cameron, whose solo on "It Don't Mean A Thing" was a marvel
of fire and finesse.

Prior to performing an exquisite "From Rags To Riches," Bennett alluded to
his string of 24 top 40 hits from 1950 to '64. "I had so many hits," he
quipped, "I was the Madonna of my day."

Other highlights included sublime versions of "That Ol' Devil Moon," "Speak
Low" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing," which brought the show to a

Midway through the concert, Bennett paid tribute to his mentor, Earl
Hines/Duke Ellington band vocal great Herb Jeffries, now a North County

He then turned the stage over to Jeffries, a remarkably fit 82-year-old,
whose deep baritone and swooping falsetto sounded untouched by the passing
of time on a show-stopping performance of "Summertime."

The concert was also a triumph for the East County Performing Arts Center
itself. Having recently undergone a $500,000 renovation, the theater boasts
a new heating and air-conditioning system, new carpeting, a redesigned
lobby and a first-rate new sound system.

Bennett, who has performed at virtually every major venue in and out of San
Diego County, was clearly impressed.

"Isn't this a beautiful theater?" he asked. "I want to make sure, if there
are any city fathers here tonight, that this never becomes an insurance
company" building.

Then, to demonstrate the hall's first-rate acoustics, he sang "Fly Me To
The Moon," sans microphone. Both he and the venue passed the test with
flying colors.

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