Friday, September 01, 2006

Tony Bennett

This year marks Tony Bennett's 80th year on planet earth. A new duets album is being released to mark the occasion. But it should also be occassion for Sony to re-think its slipshod reissue policy on Bennett's catalogue. For an artist of Bennett's caliber and influence, the simple fact that many of his LPs have never been reissued on CD is outrageous. Adding insult to injury, many of the CDs that are on the market are early CD-era relics with sub-par sound quality that are badly in need of fresh remastering. Others contain bonus tracks with no discernable relationship to the album. Meanwhile, Sony/BMG's Legacy label is busy cranking out deluxe-digipack Journey reissues.

I don't know who is at fault, Sony or Bennett's management, but despite the existence of some well-chosen anthologies, Tony Bennett's catalogue is a mess. There appears to be no rational reissue strategy at work. If you think I'm exaggerating, check out the discography from Bennett's website. Click on the individual releases, and notice how many say "Not currently available." I count over twenty. It's outrageous--a lot of these are amazing albums. While it's true that even the best of these albums were not as carefully thought out as Sinatra's Capitol "concept" records, that is no excuse for them being absent from the market altogether for such a long period of time.

Tony's artistry has near universal appeal. 90-year-old Grandmas, toddlers, and the hippest hipsters all find something that speaks to them in the magic of Tony's voice. When my son was two he saw a brief clip of Tony performing at the Newport Jazz Festival on TV, and he was absolutely captivated. So I threw "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" on the turntable for him, and for months all he wanted to hear was "Tony Bennett music." At one point he decided that the name "Tony Bennett" wasn't a good enough and that he should change his name to "Tony Soda." Since Bennett is only a stage name anyway, I felt like writing Mr. Anthony Benedetto and telling him that although he had a nice 50 year run with the name Bennett, my toddler felt it was time for a change of pace and perhaps he should consider changing his name to "Tony Soda." I never got around to that, but you have to admit "Tony Soda" has a certain ring-a-ding-ding to it.

Anyway, this version of "Speak Low" comes from one of Tony Soda's best LPs, When Lights Are Low. Amazingly, this LP has never been reissued on CD in the United States. It's a wonderful relaxed, jazzy session he cut with just his then regular trio fronted by pianist Ralph Sharon, and the easy interplay between singer and instrumentalists is evident. This album is the equal of his more celebrated sessions with legendary pianist Bill Evans. Some key tracks from the album can be found on the 50 Years of Artistry and Jazz anthologies, but not this one. Enjoy!

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