Thursday, April 17, 2008


As a wishful musician in my mis-spent youth, I was lucky to come up in an era radically different than what Renee is currently in. The 70's was a breeding ground for so many groundbreaking movements, where even jazz was undergoing a major overhaul what with the "children of Miles" - the fusionists - cranking their amps to 11.

So it was that in 1975 I stumbled across an artifact now known as an album that called my name: "The Tony Bennett and Bill Evans Album."

I've always been a fan of stripped down music, exemplified in rock by the traditional guitar, bass and drums configuration. It's simple and yet, because of technology, can fill an arena. But this album is different and almost wholly unique in that it showcases two supreme artists performing standards - voice and piano.

I was aware of Tony Bennett but til then never a fan; Evans, one of Miles' kids, I knew of through musician friends and Miles, the most obvious being "Kind of Blue." (The album I had playing when Renee was born. Cliche', I know, but it was interesting when one day I was playing "Freddie Freeloader" when she was only about 6 and she stopped in her tracks and said, "Hey Daddy, I know this song.")

From the very first notes of "Young and Foolish" I was hooked. This album brings it, folks, and goes to that realm where there is no "classic" or "modern" category. It transcends.

Another of Miles' kids, the late great Tony Williams, was one of the greatest artists I was lucky enough to see perform - several times! I can remember reading an interview with him at that time, and they asked him what was grabbing his attention, and he mentioned the Bennett and Evans album. I can remember him saying something like, "It's extremely musical."

I was lucky enough to see Bennett last year, and like with Etta James, his voice has lost it's range, he's very old now. But the richness, the timbre are still there. It's still a great instrument, the one ole' Blue Eyes himself said was the best in the business.

Bennett's at the height of his powers here, rich, powerful, perfect phrasing, total control... he lays it all out. When you think about all these jerkoffs on "American Idol" that amounts to nothing more than karaoke with marketing, it's really hilarious. If you know nothing about technique, try this sometime; listen to those kids, whether they're singing or spittin'rap, and listen to their intake, when they inhale. I pointed it out to Renee once by saying that he (I think it was one of the generic so-called gangsta rappers) sounded like a wounded seal.

By contrast, you can barely hear Bennett inhale and most of the time it's silent.

This is the perfect album to have a romantic meal by. (Well, the truth is there are some melancholy songs like "Some Other Time" and "We'll be Together Again," but just put it on low enough so that s/he can't clearly discern the lyrics.)

If you want music unadorned by flash bulbs and red carpets but infused with that certain something that lets you know that indeed, there is beauty in life, then look no further. It's sublime.

ps: Carmen McRae has an extremely rare album of just her singing accompanying herself on piano that's bad too.