Today I finally got to achieve a long-held ambition – to see Tony Bennett sings ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco.’ But that ended the day.
In the morning I drove to the famous Cannery Row. John Steinbeck would probably be appalled at what has happened to it. Now a tourist haunt that resembles Pier 39 in San Francisco, it is all eating places and cheap, gaudy gift shops. There are some remnants of the past in some old wooden huts that once house the Filipino workers but most people ignore these and head to the Aquarium. Out of the tourist precinct I found a really god second-hand books store and got some new copies of old Steinbeck favourites – Cannery Row and Travels With Charley.
Out at the festival after a coffee on Cannery Row, I saw Robert Randolph & The Family Band twice – once on the main stage and once on the small Garden Stage. Two different sets to vastly different sized audiences but the effects were the same: the audience was exceptionally enthusiastic. This was amplified when Randolph invited the ladies to join him on the small garden stage and found himself surrounded by about thirty women during an epic version of Slim Harpo’s ‘Hip Shake.’ The guy next to me said to his partner, ‘This is a Rolling Stones’ song.’ I resisted the inner-geek and said nothing.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue got an even wilder reception on the main stage in the set following Randolph. They are both real showmen and what they have managed to do is to take their chosen musical forms and make them accessible to a mass audience. Most of all they are both real entertainers.
During the hour and a half break between Randolph’s second set and the first arena show I adjourned to the theatre (where it was a lot warmer) and watched Jazz On A Summer’s Day, filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. I had not seen it for years but what a fantastic film it is. Many of the performances are rivetting. Big Maybelle and Mahalia Jackson were sensational.The thing I noticed was how far they stood from the microphone yet how clear and strong their voices were. (Anyone know the brand of the mic used?).
Chuck Berry, Thelonius Monk, Max Roach, Art Farmer …..the list goes on. And, of course, Louis Armstrong who played superbly at about a dozen different tempos.
In the evening in the arena we were first treated to the premiere of a new commissioned work by master guitarist Bill Frisell and his Big Sur Quintet (with Jenny Scheinman on violin). ‘The Music Of Glen Devon Ranch’ was inspired by ten days Frisell spent there earlier this year. Beautiful and majestic it spanned one glorious hour. I really like the idea of being able to see something unique at a festival. It makes the experience even more special.
Next, Jack DeJohnnette’s Special Trio with guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Christian McBride put in a superlative one-hour set that was not nearly as ‘fusion’-oriented as you might think. Now 58 years old, Metheny’s hair is still as thick and big as it was 30 years ago. It looks like he is sitting under a bonsai bush. But he can sure play!
The evening was closed out by one of the modern masters – 85-year-old Tony Bennett. But first we had an introduction by none other than Clint Eastwood who did not get a very warm reception – not rude but not enthusiastic. A few people around me yelled out, ‘Where’s your chair?’
How amazing is Tony Bennett? I think he played at Jazz Fest a few years back and I missed him there. Tim Thorpe would have seen him for sure.
Why was I worried about Bennett’s voice? Because he is 85? As I said afterwards, I wish he could give singing lesson to Bob Dylan. He seemed to reach for the high notes often just to tempt us into thinking he was not going to hit them – but he did every time! Like some sort of high jumper, so at ease with his talent that he sets the bar continually higher and leaps it with ease.
The man is all class, charisma and charm. I suppose you learn a few things when you have been performing for 60 years. (Like do what you do best. Paying attention Mick and Keith?)
in just over an hour Tony did 19 songs including ‘I Got Rhythm,’ ‘But Beautiful,’ ‘Just In Time,’ ‘The Shadow Of Your Smile,’ ‘One For My Baby and One mOre For The Road,’ ‘ For Once In My Life,’ ‘Smile’ and, of course, ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ (the crowd went nuts for this one). The encore of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ was perfect.
Interestingly, Bennett did not perform many songs in their entirety; rather he picked the essence out of them and so some songs that might have been four minutes originally were now just a couple of minutes, usually featuring a dramatic finale. A few years ago when Al Green did that in Melbourne people were complaining vociferously.
When Tony Bennett’s voice finally starts to give out he can just eliminate all the high notes and keep singing until he is 95!
One more Jazz Festival day to go and then it is off to Big Sur and back to San Francisco.