You don’t need Google Translate to figure out how to say joie de vivre in Italian. It’s Anthony Benedetto, or idiomatically, Tony Bennett.
Experiencing Bennett in concert is watching joie de vivre come of life. In his performance Thursday at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis, the ageless crooner was so full of vitality, charm, warmth, humility, grace, courtliness, smiles and, of course, joy.
A regular visitor to the Twin Cities this century, Bennett, at 91, seems to have slowed down slightly. Don’t all great-grandfathers? He didn’t talk as much as before. He didn’t dance as much. There was no more soft shoe during “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” or any nifty pirouettes. He leaned against the grand piano a little more often than he used to. But he found his way around the stage to stand next to his four fine musicians whenever they took a solo. And the singer mock-jogged back onto the stage to take a curtain call.
What really matters is his voice and his ability to deliver a song. Only a curmudgeon would complain that Bennett’s voice was craggy a time or two (you’d never say pitchy with such a seasoned pro). But his voice was strong, steady and true. Like a proud trumpeter, he belted those closing notes loud, clear and long, to the delight of the fans.
Bennett can still sell a song with the best of them. As with his pal Frank Sinatra (who, via recording, introduced Bennett on Thursday as “the greatest singer in the world”), he has an immaculate sense of phrasing. He sings like he’s having a conversation with the listeners. In fact, several of his selections on Thursday seemed to start as if he were talking. That brought an inescapable intimacy to the performance, especially the ballads.
With a hand in his pocket, he embraced every word on “It Amazes Me” like a saloon singer enraptured in romance, before ending with his eyes closed, singing his heart out. By contrast, “But Beautiful” was just the caress of his voice and Gray Sargent’s spare, Wes Montgomery-style guitar filigree. It was beautiful indeed.
A few pieces could have been interpreted as mottos for Bennett’s ever-enduring autumnal years. In “This Is All I Ask,” he ironically sang about approaching “the prime of his life,” promising to “stay younger than spring.”
“How Do You Keep the Music Playing” broadcast his determination: “How do you keep the song from fading too fast?” He eventually concluded, “With any luck, then, I suppose the music never ends.”
It was a metaphor for a relationship. But it could speak to his career. Or Thursday’s unforgettable concert.
Bennett said little except for praising the audience as the best he’s ever had. He didn’t even mention the pianist, Tom Ranier, by name. Since the pianist was using sheet music, one assumes he was relatively new. The other players — guitarist Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones — have been with Bennett for years. Like the audience, he truly enjoyed their efforts. Not only did he listen intently to their playing, he’d swing his arm to the rhythm, point a hand at the musician when it was time for applause and sometimes shout, “Beautiful,” “Right on” or “Wow!”
The concertgoers appeared to come from multiple generations to hear this great American treasure sing the Great American Songbook. In the 1990s, the MTV generation embraced Bennett, and then in the ’10s, Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse introduced him to millennials via duets with him.
The Minneapolis audience was consistently enthusiastic, responding with four standing ovations in the final 15 minutes for such signatures as “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Bennett’s 1962 classic, and “Fly Me to the Moon,” rendered, as always, without a microphone, just that booming voice carrying listeners to a place faraway.
After two dozen songs over 75 minutes, all 2,200 concertgoers — whether millennials, baby boomers or members of the Great Generation — left with smiles as radiant as Bennett’s. That’s what joie de vivre does for you.