So this is what the Hollywood Bowl is really about in the year 2000. Not only did the Tony Bennett/Diana Krall ticket attract sold-out houses on both Friday and Saturday nights — without the lure of fireworks — but each performer held the rapt attention of the vast audience which seemed to hang upon every word and note. True, there are many Bowl constituencies, but this one — presumably affluent, responsive to old-line star power and attractive new faces purveying pop standards of long ago — may well determine the direction of future weekend bookings.
For Krall, this was her most successful Bowl outing to date, for she has hit upon a varied format that plays directly to her strengths and minimizes her weaknesses. In the past, having just her trio or quartet playing to this huge amphitheatre robbed her act of its intimacy, and she looked uncomfortable standing in front of a big band.
This time, Krall remained securely seated behind her grand piano at all times, with her quartet as the inner circle and most significantly, with Alan Broadbent and the Los Angeles Philharmonic wrapping several of her numbers in a warm, suave blanket of sound. Her vocals were more confident than before; her piano work remains sharp and full of witty quotes. With this format, she was able to effectively mix up the pace, whether creating an appealing sunset mood with the help of the sophisticated Johnny Mandel-derived orchestrations from last year’s “When I Look Into Your Eyes” CD (Verve) or swinging in a straight-ahead jazz manner with her fast-track current quartet.
Bennett turned 74 the day before his Friday gig, and upon the recent deaths of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Joe Williams, he finds himself as chief defender of the old verities of American popular song. Playing that role to the max, Bennett crammed as many songs as he could into a fast-paced set laced with strings of tributes (Ellington, Astaire, Weill), with ever-present pianist Ralph Sharon feeding him swinging licks to stimulate some jazzy inflections and onetime Sinatra conductor Vincent Falcone leading the orchestrations.
There has always been, and continues to be, a certain slickness about the Bennett act — and trading vocals with Krall on “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “I’ve Got The World On A String” was a nice idea that didn’t produce anything sensational. Yet Bennett’s undiminished command of the stage radiated authority, and he still has the pipes to back it up. Indeed, he’s singing better now than in the early 1980s; his weathered baritone has regained a lot of its strength at the top, and he was eager to show those high notes off, sometimes more so than necessary.