Corrections were made to this review on Aug. 25, 2003.
Whether doing a little soft-shoe to “Stepping Out,” holding till breaking point the last note of “Mood Indigo” or reminding the packed crowd that he was “the Britney Spears of his day,” Tony Bennett was in top form and full voice Friday at the Bowl. The 90-minute performance under the stars ranged easily from uptempo jazzy pieces through several of his signature crowd-pleasers (“I Wanna Be Around,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”) all the way to Kurt Weill and Charlie Chaplin.
Along the way Bennett performed in a loose, casual manner, jazzing it up, toying with the phrasing, accentuating or disjoining the words here and there — “I picked a plum” never sounded so ripe; “Speak, Love” rarely sounded so smoky, even in the vastness of the outdoor amphitheater.
Bennett also allowed his excellent backup group plenty of room to stretch and shine — percussionist Clayton Cameron offered up a rousing solo on “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” while pianist Lee Musiker glided sleekly through “Maybe This Time.” With “The Best Is Yet to Come,” the 77-year-old dean of popular music made the audience think it really would be so.
Even the Chaplin-penned “Smile” and Barbra Streisand’s unofficial theme song “People” gave up a few new pleasures. “That Old Devil Moon” was the evening’s standout.
There were also less oft-heard pieces, including the haunting, not to say eerily contemporary, “Lost in the Stars,” a Weill piece from the late ’40s. Bennett recalled having sung it with Count Basie’s orchestra at the Bowl in the ’60s, whereupon an actual falling star did pass over. The next day Bennett got a call from Ray Charles asking, “How did you do it?!”
If he was tired, it hardly showed, but Bennett did only one encore (few folks had left): the lovely Alan and Marilyn Bergman-Michel Legrand classic “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”
Sinatra and Torme may be gone, but the Great American Songbook is still a page-turner in Bennett’s hands.
Performance was preceded by a crisp reading of Weill’s “Little Threepenny Music” by the L.A. Philharmonic’s wind ensemble conducted by John Axelrod and a sprightly rendition of the Scott Joplin rag “The Entertainer,” better known as the theme song from “The Sting.”