Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Tony Bennett and Bill Evans

Tony Bennett in January 1960
Tony Bennett (born 1926) in January 1960

I’m altering my usual MO here. Usually, when my Music History Monday post celebrates the premiere of a piece of music, the next day’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post goes on the recommend a recording of that piece. As yesterday’s Music History Monday was about Richard Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, it would follow, then, that today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes would recommend a recording. But, no. Instead, we’re running with the “mastersinger” thing, which is why I’m dedicating today’s DBP to the ageless and always wonderful Tony Bennett, “the mastersinger of Astoria, Queens.” I have loved the recommended albums since I first bought them on vinyl back in the mid-1970s and they have lost not an iota of their freshness and soul in the intervening years.

These albums represent Tony Bennett the jazz singer at his very best. This is in no small part thanks to the otherworldly simpatico he achieves with the equally otherworldly Bill Evans on piano. Which prompts me to offer up a quick but ultimately unnecessary apologia. The apology? Bill Evans’ brilliant piano playing here notwithstanding, this post is going to focus entirely on Tony Bennett. The apology is indeed unnecessary because Music History Monday for August 16, 2021 and the following Dr. Bob Prescribes on August 17 will both be dedicated to Bill Evans. Soon enough then, Maestro Evans will get his due.

I have never hidden my disdain for the autotune-dependent, porcine squeals and bovine ululations that pass for the voices of various recent and current pop divas. At the same time, I have gloried in the magic that is produced by a properly trained, properly deployed operatic voice. However, this has not stopped me for kvelling over comparatively unschooled jazz, theatrical, and popular singers. These pages have celebrated many such singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Merman, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day (this coming Thursday, June 24!), Nancy Walker, and Dinah Shore, to name but a few.

These women singers shared four things in common. One, they sang in tune without the intervention of such accursed digital devices as “autotune.” Two, they each had a distinctive, personal sound, one that was theirs and theirs alone. Three, their diction was such that the words they sang were as clear and understandable as they would be in conversation. Finally, four, like the greatest opera singers projecting a role on stage, they could all “sell” a song: find its “truth” – the emotional message behind its words – and then transmit that message to our ears, hearts, and souls.

Likewise, there was no shortage of top-end male pop singers in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s – Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Vic Damone, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Paul Anka, Jack Jones, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., Robert Goulet, Nat “King” Cole, Steve Lawrence, Harry Belafonte; the list goes on though I will not. They were all baritones, they all sang in tune, and they all had smooth, attractive voices, great diction and could sell a song.

However, in my opinion, to my taste (and casting no aspersions on any of the A-list talents indicated above), that male pop/jazz singer with the most distinctive voice, who can best “sell” a song while swinging until the cows come home is Tony Bennett.… continue reading, only on Patreon!

Become a Patron!

Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now