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I have been at a rare loss for words since the passing of Tony Bennett…

I have been at a rare loss for words since the passing of Tony Bennett, still amazed that I had ever met him, much less that I got to spend time with him, talking about music, art or family, let alone record or share the stage with him or that I would be granted such privileged proximity to witness his more substantial collaborations with my wife, Diana Krall.

Looking back over photos of us together, one could not help but note the contrast between us in style and ease in front of the camera.

This first shot was taken at “The Red Parrot” in NYC in 1983 at the taping of an unaired NBC television special, “Swing It Again” and, yes, that is Count Basie smiling up at us from behind the piano.

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I felt and certainly sounded like an ill-equipped, terribly hoarse novice on that occasion, yet Tony, sensing that I had drifted too far from shore in even taking on this assignment, was sympathetic and encouraging to me, gracefully getting me through that uncomfortable ordeal.


I had been just thirteen years old when I first heard Tony Bennett sing. My mother, Lillian, took me to a show in London on which the singer – who rivaled or even surpassed Sinatra in her affections – was co-billed with Buddy Rich.

As a singer’s son myself, I thought the drummer to be an obnoxious show-off, constantly stepping into the singer’s limelight, delaying the appearance of one of those beautiful ballads that meant so much to Lillian but finally, the tempo dropped, the tempest stilled and Tony sang “When Joanna Loved Me” and Johnny Mandel’s, “Shadow Of Your Smile” more beautifully than anyone could imagine.

What did I know about show business?


The next time Tony and I would sing together was at the taping of his “MTV Unplugged” in 1994, trading lines on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” like two old pals. Tony also had k.d. lang as duet partner but all of the guests were simply there to frame the event, not to define it.

This was an opportunity for Tony to sing concentrated, sometimes hushed versions of “Body and Soul” or Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” and, perhaps, some of those songs were heard for the first time by this younger audience.

In this second shot, Tony looks immaculate as ever but the stance illustrates his generosity; his hand on my shoulder, a gesture of reassurance to the camera, as if to say, “This guy is okay by me”.

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That snapshot was taken at the sessions for “Duets: An American Classic”. We had a ball, singing “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?”. One take for sound balance, one take for the tape and one more for the camera, because that’s how it was done.

Later that same day, Diana and Tony cut “The Best Is Yet To Come”.

They had toured together before Diana and I had even met. That was in those rich years when the accolades and success came to Tony’s songbook and salute records; tipping a brim to Sinatra on “Perfectly Frank”, to Fred Astaire on “Steppin’ Out” and recording collections like the exquisite “Silver Lining – The Songs Of Jerome Kern”, each seeming like a current event rather than some dim nostalgic view.

There is no better illustration of Tony’s possession of the moment than when he pulled Diana out of the audience at the taping of my television show, “Spectacle” and asked her to join him on “I’ve Got The World On A String”.

Our lads were but infants then and, during a technical re-set, Diana had been glancing down at her phone to check for a message from home about one of them, when Tony suddenly asked for her to join him on stage – unscripted and unrehearsed – and to take over the piano bench. The ease and joy of their performance was worth ten more questions that I might have asked.

Songs were always there to be celebrated and revisited with the benefit of a lifetime of experience and appreciation because Tony’s possession of these songs was more instinctive than academic. Diana and Tony’s last studio work together was “Love Is Here To Stay” – his second-to-last album, a lovely, intimate recording of numbers from the Gershwin songbook.

One final picture: a sunny day in Central Park in 2017 and our family is out walking when we happen to see Tony sitting on a park bench near his apartment. There he was; the exceptional New Yorker, looking splendid in his track suit, taking in the day, being hailed by passers-by.

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There are no more words needed to tell you how much this photo means to me now or how fortunate I feel to have known him or to have spent these moments together.


Unlike some posturing political charlatans one might mention, Tony Bennett actually saw the horror and suffering of war from the perspective of an enlisted man, serving in the U.S. Army in the Second World War and was in a unit that liberated the Kaufering concentration camp near Dachau.

These experiences seem to have confirmed him as a patriotic but peace-loving American. On a fundamental level of human decency, he was disgusted by segregation of African-American servicemen who had served and risked as much as any other soldier in the fight against fascism.

In peacetime, he was equally dismayed to find that while he and Duke Ellington could headline a gala event as musicians, only one of them could attend the social festivities preceding the performance.

In 1965, Tony Bennett performed at a rally in Alabama alongside his lifelong friend, Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone and Joan Baez in support of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King.

It is said that he did not care for the bellicose sentiments of “The Star Spangled Banner” – with its “bombs bursting in air”. He was certainly critical of the ungainly and, for some, impossible melodic leap on those very words and identified more closely with the hopeful promise of “America The Beautiful”.

I understand that New York City has declared Tony’s birthday, August 3rd, to be “Tony Bennett Day”. Some day, when the world is right, it will be a national holiday.

Until then, may I suggest you spin Tony’s incomparable duo album with Bill Evans, particularly the composition by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, never more lovely and consoling than at this moment: “Some Other Time”.

My thoughts, gratitude and loving condolences go to Susan, Danny, Dae and all of Tony’s family and to his many colleagues and friends whose loss is immeasurable.

Elvis Costello. 8/2/23

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