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Singer Tony Bennett: "The Best in the Business"

The once post-war heartthrob won new fans with his MTV Unplugged concert. His new CD is "The Playground." He has a new autobiography called The Good Life. A grocer's son, Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born in Astoria Queens in 1926. After working as a singing waiter in his teens and then following service in the U.S. Army, he auditioned for Columbia Records and launched a career that started off with his first big hit "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

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Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 25, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112501np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Tony Bennett
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Frank Sinatra once called Tony Bennett the best singer in the business, and who am I to quarrel with that? Now, with Sinatra gone, we cherish Bennett even more. He has a new autobiography called "The Good Life" which was written with Will Friedwald, the author of "Sinatra: The Song Is You."

Tony Bennett also has a new CD called "The Playground" featuring songs geared to kids and their parents. Let's start from a song from it, written by Walter Donaldson, and this is "My Mom."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP OF MUSIC -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "MY MOM")

I've got one real friend
More than a friend I find
The way I feel friend
She's all of this heart of mine

I'm all for her I know
She'll always be for me
I'm on my way friend
I'm going home to see

My mom I love her
My mom you'd love her
Who wouldn't love her

My mom
That sweet somebody
Thinks I'm somebody
My pal my buddy my mom

GROSS: Tony Bennett, welcome to FRESH AIR.

TONY BENNETT, SINGER: Thank you.

GROSS: That's a nice song, "My Mom," I've never heard it before. It's by Walter Donaldson, who also wrote "At Sundown," "Little White Lies," "Love Me or Leave Me," "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," "My Blue Heaven."

Now, you say in your book that your father used to sing that song.

BENNETT: Yeah, he sang it to my brother and myself, and made us, you know, even fall in love more with our mother, and he was just a wonderful sweet father. He always sang that song, and to this day my brother and I remember it and remember it as our favorite song.

GROSS: Did your father sing a lot?

BENNETT: He did. In Calabria he had a reputation for singing on the top of the mountain, and the whole value would hear it and they enjoyed him so much.

GROSS: What was his style of singing? Was it operatic or pop?

BENNETT: It was opera. Yes, it was opera, and my brother inherited that side of him. And was, at 14 years old, known as a little Caruso and saying in the Metropolitan Opera, and solo spots. So, that whole -- it was a great way to start thinking about music, you know, to start with the greatest music of all which is opera.

GROSS: Your father died at the age of 41. How old were you?

BENNETT: I was 10 years old.

GROSS: Did you have to go out early and support the family after his death? Or help support the family?

BENNETT: Well, really, yes, that's the one thing I had on my mind. Because of my mom, and I wanted to make sure she was working so hard, and I really felt for her all the time. And felt that I wanted to, you know, get any kind of job to help her out.

GROSS: So, you dropped out of high school, I think, to get work?

BENNETT: Yes. Well, I worked during high school, but I became a singing waiter towards the end -- I didn't finish high school. So, I became a singing waiter in Astoria, Long Island, and found that out of all the jobs -- I didn't like any job I had, and that was the only job that I said: if I have to do this the rest of my life I'll be happy be doing that.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Close, huh? It sounds like you really liked high school even though you had to drop out. You when to the High School of Industrial Arts in New York.

BENNETT: I loved it. It was so, you know, it was a school that was set up by President Roosevelt and Mayor LaGuardia to just help children get an occupation, and it was a wonderful school because it taught you the techniques of every form of art; stained-glass windows, and silk screen, and photography, painting, cartooning.

It was just wonderful, and they also had this very advanced approach -- alternative approach of saying you don't have to come to school. I couldn't believe that after public school in junior high school. They said you don't have to come to school as long as you stay out -- if you stay out five days just come back with five days worth of painting, and you don't have to attend school.

That automatically made me not want to miss a day.

LAUGHTER

So, just, we had great teachers, and it was a wonderful experience.

GROSS: And of course you still paint. When you were in high school did you think you would be a professional painter or a singer?

BENNETT: Well, there was one teacher, Mr. Sandberg, who was the music department of the school and he said: you know, he said, you really have an exceptional voice and you should really carry on as an entertainer. He got the art teachers upset with them, but I took his advice and it's been a split road ever sense. I paint and sing, and that's become my life.

GROSS: My guest is Tony Bennett, and he has a new memoir which is called "The Good Life." You were drafted toward the end of World War II, and after basic training you were sent to the front line. Where were you sent?

BENNETT: I was sent as a replacement after the Battle of the Bulge. Days after the Battle of the Bulge, and it was very traumatic. I really -- it really affected my whole life because I couldn't believe the deportment of the soldiers that were on the Battle of the Bulge. It was just tragic to see how it affected their lives; to see all that killing and insanity. It was something that I'll never forget, and it changed my life.

GROSS: Were there still bodies from the battle lying around when you got there?

BENNETT: Yes.

GROSS: You point out that more than half of the replacement soldiers became casualties within the first three days on the front lines, in part, because they were so under prepared and the soldiers who were there were so exhausted that they couldn't help in training them much. Did you feel very under prepared for what you faced?

BENNETT: Well, I couldn't believe what I faced. I mean it was complete insanity, and it was the lower depths -- the height of the lower depths to see the mood and the psyche of the soldiers that came out of the Battle of the Bulge and how the soldiers that had died that were their friends -- it was very morbid. It was quite tragic.

GROSS: Did you have any close calls yourself?

BENNETT: I did, yes. Yes.

GROSS: As punishment for bringing a black friend to a Thanksgiving dinner while the Army he was still segregated, you were given the assignment of re-burying the dead; moving them from mass graves to individual ones. How did you protect yourself emotionally and physically from this contact with the dead?

BENNETT: Well, I mean it was really a crack up for me. I mean I just couldn't believe that I was placed there, and it has affected my life to this day. I just couldn't believe it, and there's a Major Lefkowitz (ph) that was nice enough to hear about my problem and told me right out. And sent me -- made me a music librarian and for the American Forces Network. It was really -- talk about rainbows...

LAUGHTER

... after a great storm. It changed my -- I just decided to go into the music business for the rest of my life.

GROSS: While you were at the front lines during World War II, Bob Hope did a show that you got to see. And he said that had an enormous impact on you; going from the front lines to seeing this terrific show. Do you remember what songs he sang or what jokes he told?

BENNETT: Well, I remember "Thanks for the Memory," his theme song. But more than that he had Jane Russell on the show, and Les Brown's band, and the GIs -- I was one of them -- we couldn't believe it that he was so wonderful to us; what a memorable show.

And he took us off the line. I mean, it was really -- I only say that he actually saved my live because we had 88 bombs coming at us, you know, and all the sudden they said you're going back -- retreating. So, I thought we were retreating and found out that it was just a release and a relief for us to just get a second when before we went back again.

And he was just -- I mean I can't tell you that how many soldiers will never forget Bob Hope for what he did for them.

GROSS: I know you got to work with Bob Hope. Did you tour with them during wartime at anytime?

BENNETT: No, it was after the war. And for about five years I was just looking around for work, and then Pearl Bailey heard me down in Greenwich Village and she was working in a club, the Greenwich Village Inn; heard me rehearsing in the afternoon and she told the owner: if you don't have him on the show, I'm not coming in here.

And she got me started there, and then he came down from the Paramount Theatre came down to hear Pearl, and saw me on the show and got a big kick out of it and said: Come on, you're coming up to the Paramount. And changed my name from Anthony Dominick Benedetto to Tony Bennett.

GROSS: Bob Hope changed that?

BENNETT: Yeah. He said: Let's Americanized you, we'll call you Tony Bennett. So, that was a throw. I've had that name ever since, and when I paint it's Benedetto, my family name, and when I perform it's Tony Bennett.

GROSS: What you think you learned from Bob Hope in terms of show business?

BENNETT: Well, it's a nice Jewish expression, you know, show them you like them. You know, he always told me to -- when you come out on a stage, you know, just make sure that you show of the people that you enjoyed being there and you want to entertain them. And show them your enthusiasm.

GROSS: How do you do that?

BENNETT: You psyche yourself out. And you just do it, after a while it becomes -- you realize that is the right way, and that you really mean it.

GROSS: My guest is Tony Bennett. He has a new autobiography called "The Good Life." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: Tony Bennett is my guest, and he has a new memoir called "The Good Life."

I'm going to ask you to choose something from your first round of Columbia Records, you know, you left them and then came back and you're with Columbia again. But, choose something from the first time you were with Columbia that you particularly like, and that you think holds up really well.

BENNETT: Well, you might introduce a song called "Blue Velvet," and you might like to hear that.

GROSS: It's funny, most people will know that front the Bobby Vinton recording.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, that's -- see that's once again the commercial side of it. Because it has a terrible background and it's not recorded well.

LAUGHTER

They said that -- there's a friend of mine that was way ahead of time, he had a record company called Horrible Records. He said if it's horrible it's bound to be a hit.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: So, you think the Bobby Vinton version wasn't recorded well?

BENNETT: No, it wasn't.

GROSS: OK.

BENNETT: It's not my opinion, it's a fact.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: And so, your version precedes his?

BENNETT: Yeah, but it still sold a lot of records.

GROSS: Right.

BENNETT: You know, that's what so funny. When I meet a rock star, you know, they really make $500 million or something, and I do very well. I mean, I'm, you know, financially comfortable and everything, but they look at me like I'm on welfare.

LAUGHTER

They say things like: Are you still singing? Are you still singing, Mr. Bennett? And I say: Why are you calling me Mr. Bennett? You're as old as I am.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: OK. Well, let hear "Blue Velvet." This is Tony Bennett.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "BLUE VELVET")

She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet was the night
Softer than satin was the light from the stars

She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet were her eyes
Warmer than May (unintelligible)
What was I

Ours was a love I held tightly
Feeling the rapt glow
Like a flame burning brightly
But when she left

There was the glow of blue velvet

GROSS: That's Tony Bennett, and he has a new memoir which is called "The Good Life."

You're back with Columbia Records, and you even own your early masters now which must be very nice. Not all artists get to do that.

BENNETT: Oh, it's wonderful. I can thank my son for that, and the last 17 years he has managed me. He's brilliant, he knows what he's doing, and he's done a great job for me. He just changed my whole career around.

GROSS: When you first signed to Columbia Records, this was in the early 1950s, Frank Sinatra was still on the label, and he and Mitch Miller occasionally had feuds about repertoire. Did you get to know Frank's nautre during that period? Did you see yourselves as friends or as rivals?

BENNETT: No, I didn't know him at all at that time. But then I started getting one hit after another. I was the Madonna of my day.

LAUGHTER

What happened was I was very frightened; I was a young artist and I got this wonderful opportunity.

Perry Como had me do a summer replacement, and left me with kind of a bare stage in the summer replacement. They cut the budget away from his elaborate budget that he had, and left me with kind of the bare stage on CBS.

And I was very frightened about how to perform on television. Well, I just took a deep breath and Sinatra was at the Paramount Theater for -- with a reunion with Tommy Dorsey, and I said I'm going to go backstage and talk to him.

I was warned: Look out, he could be pretty tough. So I said: No, but I love the way he sings and I love him personally as a fan. I'm just going to go up and talk to him. I found out that it was just the opposite of what everybody said about him.

He was just wonderful to me, and sent me write down in the dressing room and gave me some wonderful advice about not worrying about being nervous because he said the public likes that. He said if you don't care why should the audience care? He said if you're nervous they're going to see that you care so they're going to route for you, and more they route for you to more you'll give back to them and he said it'll just be fine.

And it was wonderful advice, and then he said the very same thing I was always kind of fighting for, and he said don't ever do silly songs - stay away from silly songs. Do very well written songs by great composers. Well, that advice was fantastic because it's really sustained me for 45 years now.

GROSS: You recently did a tribute album to Sinatra called "Perfectly Frank." I thought this would be a good time to play something from that. I thought we'd here "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Do you want to say anything about this song or about recording the album before we hear it?

BENNETT: Well, let's -- that was a song that made everybody, men and women, fall in love with Frank Sinatra. That was the first movie he was in, and it was a lovely song that was my favorite period of Sinatra, anyway.

It was the most musical, and it was at the height of American popular music. I don't think it will ever be replaced because he had this gorgeous gift. He was the equivalent and popular music to DiStefano (ph) in opera. He had this great musicallity in his voice that was just naturally gifted. It was a golden voice, and this recording of that really proves how wonderful he sang.

GROSS: Well, this is Tony Bennett singing "I Fall in Love too Easily."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY")

I fall in love too easily
I fall in love too fast
I fall in love too terribly hard
For love to ever last

My heart should be well schooled
Because I've been fooled in the past
And still I fall in love too easily
I follow in love to fast
My heart should be well schooled

Because I've been fooled in the past
And still I fall in love in love too easily
I fall in love to fast

GROSS: Tony Bennett will be back in the second half of the show. His new autobiography is called "The Good Life."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Tony Bennett. He has a new autobiography called "The Good Life." In writing about his own life, he writes about some of the singers and musicians he's known and worked with.

Do you feel that you learned things about singing from listening to Sinatra?

BENNETT: Oh, well, you know, if you listen to one it's thievery, but if you listen to everybody its research.

LAUGHTER

So, I listened to Sinatra; I listen to Bing Crosby; I listened to Louis Armstrong. You know there's a lot of girl singers that taught me how to sing; Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan; and Carmen McRae all wonderful stylists and do great things with intimatcy -- the art of intimate singing.

GROSS: You are not only a big fan of Sinatra's, he was also a big fan of yours. And in a, much quoted now, "Life" magazine article from April of 1965 he said "For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him, he moves me, he's a singer who gets across what the composer has in mind and probably a little bit more."

It strikes me though that you lived your life very differently, at least for my perspective just kind of watching. It looks like you lived your lives pretty differently; Frank Sinatra much more in the limelight, there was the Rat Pack, he had a reputation as being much more temperamental, and so on.

And I'm wondering if you feel like you learned anything by watching him live his life? In terms of the affect public life had on him?

BENNETT: Well, you know, I've had a very interesting relationship with Sinatra. Now that he's gone, I think about it and I realize: Boy, that was really different because we were never really that close. The Rat Pack was a lot closer to him.

I lived on the East Coast most of the time, and he was out on the West Coast making films and doing nightclubs in Vegas mostly. But yet, I'd go see him a lot, and whenever I saw him it was wonderful, it was always an uppie (ph) to be around him. He was so much fun, nobody ever had more fun than Frank Sinatra, believe me.

But then there would always be these things that would always surprised me because when I first met Orson Welles backstage at Radio City at the Night of a Hundred Stars he said: You know, I go to every one of Sinatra's parties and he always plays your records.

You know, things like that I would always be shocked, and say: You're kidding. He said: No, that's true. And then every -- I realized, looking back, that every season Sinatra would always change quite a few numbers and his performance every season.

And he'd always say something about me that was complimentary and encouraging for the public to go see me perform somewhere. He would always turn a phrase or say it a different way, but each season he would say something the whole season that would -- either he would mention a song that I recorded or say you've got to see this guy Bennett he's really cooking right now.

He'd say something to the audience that would promote the public to come and see me. So, he really affected my career because his huge fan clubs they would all say let's see what Sinatra's talking about. And he would really fill the seats for me, and he's always been a great friend right through the years.

And then, one night, just recently before he died the last performance he gave at Radio City I was sitting in the audience, and he said: This my best friend, not only in show business, but my best friend period. And he had me stand up and take a bow in Radio City. And that really moved me; that was something.

GROSS: It strikes me, you're always a more kind of accessible performer than Sinatra. I don't mean musically, but in terms of just of contact with you. I mean, Sinatra wouldn't have done a radio interview I don't think. Unless maybe with Sid Mark who does the Sinatra show.

Sinatra, probably, couldn't even have played Carnegie Hall because he had to play stadiums, and...

BENNETT: Well, no that was later. He did play Carnegie Hall, and when he did it was magnificent. I saw him -- in fact, it was the best concert I ever saw the my life and for a popular singer. And it was at Carnegie Hall with a tremendous orchestra of about 80 musicians, and everybody in tails. And it was a magnificent evening.

I know exactly what you're saying, but you see, that was -- in those days it was the film star attitude. You know, you had to appear unattainable.

GROSS: Yeah, I think you put your finger on it. You had to appear unattainable. Yeah.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, it's almost like, you know, in show business everything is kind of the game. Each individual plays it a different way, and I've always -- I like Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald of the sense that they were truly humble, and they were accessible to the fans.

I learned a long time ago -- I've played Britain for the last 50 years now, and they are just lines of fans at the end of the performance that -- in a double row and they just want my autograph. And I just stay there and sign every autograph. I mean, I just think it's, you know, if they like me I'm going to like them.

GROSS: I want to pause here for some more music and I think every time you've ever done FRESH AIR I've managed to play something from one of the Tony Bennett-Bill Evans records. There's such extraordinary records, and so I thought this time around we'd play "Some Other Time."

BENNETT: Oh, good.

GROSS: So, let's hear that, and then we'll talk a little bit.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "SOME OTHER TIME")

Where has the time all gone to
Haven't done half the things we want to
Oh well we'll catch up some other time

This day was just a token
Too many words are still unspoken
Oh well we'll catch up some other time

Just when the fun is starting
Comes the time for parting
But let's be glad for what we've had
And what's to come

There's so much more embracing
Still to be done but time is wasting
Oh well we'll catch up some other time

GROSS: That's Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, and my guest is Tony Bennett. He has a new memoir which is called "The Good Life."

In your memoir you write a little bit about doing your two records with Bill Evans, and you loved working with him. And, God, these records are extraordinary; you say the problem, though, that you saw was -- the depressing thing was watching how Bill Evans' drug habit interfered with his life. Did it interfere with his music to, do you think? Did you feel getting in the way that all of rehearsals or whatever?

BENNETT: Well, no, it didn't affect him at all. And anyway, he went past that. He hated being addicted. He hated it. I told him: I guess you didn't get enough love when you were young. He said: Oh, love, I wish someone would have hit me and knocked me out the first time I took a needle. He said: That was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

And he was very very sick. At the end of his life I can't tell you how hard it was; it was just absolutely hard. He just would blow up at the end of performance he would play everything; he would just blow up and was just filled up with water and fluid, and he'd have to lay down in the prone position and just wait until it all subsided.

I'll never forget that one night I was an a small little town somewhere, and I got this call from Bill Evans and it was six months before he died, and he said: Tony, just think truth and beauty. He said: Just forget the rest. And that was his last words to me.

GROSS: Why do you think he said that?

BENNETT: Because he believed that that's the right way. He believed that that's what music is about. That's the road to correct music, and correct living. Truth and beauty, you know, that's what life is all about.

GROSS: And you think he was able to keep in touch with that musically even when he was really sick?

BENNETT: No, he went past the sickness. He just had to do it; he had this compulsive about just playing better and better and better. And it was amazing, the intensity. He was a genius at -- he bridged the gap, I mean, before the classical music always wanted to play jazz, and he couldn't quite make it. And jazz artists wanted to play classical, and they couldn't quite make it.

He found a way to bridge the gap, and was able to swing and still have that classical background. So, that's when people like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis when they heard him play and they said: God, I have to sing with this guy. They couldn't believe what they were listening to. The result of the music that he was playing was so fantastic they had never heard anything like that. He was that good.

GROSS: My guest is Tony Bennett. His new autobiography is called "The Good Life." We'll talk more after our break.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Tony Bennett. He has a new autobiography called "The Good Life."

I want to ask you about Duke Ellington. It seems like you had a really nice relationship with him. You say that he used to send you flowers after he wrote a new song.

BENNETT: Yeah, every time he wrote a new song he sent me flowers.

GROSS: Why did he do that?

BENNETT: Well, because he was a gentleman. It's old-fashioned, but it was correct. He was just courteous to people that he liked.

GROSS: Did he want you to sing the song, is that why he sent them to you? I'm sure you sent flowers to everyone he knew after he wrote a song.

BENNETT: No, he liked me and we were close. Our families were close, and he was another master. A great master. It's funny, people don't realize it but there are more recordings of his music than the Beatles. Every musician -- everywhere in the world wherever I go -- I go into some cabaret somewhere, I'll listen to a radio in Denmark or Sweden or Belgian, and you'll hear a Duke Ellington song. Every musician just loves Duke Ellington.

GROSS: Would you choose a Ellington song that he recorded that you'd like us to play?

BENNETT: Yeah, "Solitude" is fine.

GROSS: Good, let's hear that. And this is Tony Bennett.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "SOLITUDE")

In my solitude
You hold me
With memories of days gone by

In my solitude
You told me
With memories that never die

I sit in my chair
I'm filled with despair
Because no one could be so said

With gloom everywhere
I sit and I stare
I know I'll seem a little mad

In my solitude
I'll pray dear Lord above
Bring back my love

GROSS: That's Tony Bennett singing Duke Ellington's "Solitude."

Tony Bennett has a new memoir which is called "The Good Life." Did you have personal relationships with a lot of songwriters?

BENNETT: Yes, I did. Harold Allen was my great favorite, and I never met Nia Poberer (ph) but Harold Allen told me that Nia Poberer was the best lyric writer that ever lived. And he wrote with everyone; Ira Gershwin -- I met Ira Gershwin, he was fantastic. I had personal relationships with Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and Jack Siegel, Allen and Marilyn Bergman (ph).

GROSS: Did anybody write songs especially for you? I know you are often asked to be the first person to recorder a song.

BENNETT: Johnny Mercer wrote "I Want to Be Around" for me.

GROSS: That's an interesting story. Do you want to tell that?

BENNETT: Well, is a wonderful story. You know, Sadie Vinderstat (ph) was a fan in Youngstown, Ohio and she was an amateur songwriter. And she wrote "I Want to Be Around to Pick Up the Pieces When Somebody Breaks Your Heart." She wrote a fan letter to Johnny Mercer, and she said: Johnny, this sounds like something you would write, she said.

So, he got such a kick out of it he wrote the song, finished it, and gave her 50 percent of the song. And Sadie would send me, after the song was a hit, she would set me cards from all over -- from Paris, from Russia, from England. And she said: Thanks so much Tony.

I think she was the only songwriter who really went overboard in thanking for recording her song, but she took vacations all over the world with the money that she made from that song.

GROSS: How did Johnny Mercer choose you to record it?

BENNETT: Well, he was living in England there for a while, and so was I, and we just started making a little contact, and then a fellow called Phil Zella (ph) who did his promotion for him from this music publishing company told me Johnny wrote this song and wants you to do it.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is "I Want to Be Around," Tony Bennett.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "I WANT TO BE AROUND")

I want to be around
To pick up the pieces
When somebody breaks your heart

Somebody twice as smart
As I

A somebody who will swear to be true
As you used to do with me

Will leave you to learn
That misery loves company
Wait and see

I mean I want to be around
To see how he does it
When he breaks your heart to bits

Let's see if the puzzle fits
So fine

And that's when I'll discover
That revenge is sweet
As I sit there applauding
From a front row seat

When somebody breaks your heart
Like you like you broke mine

GROSS: We'll talk more with Tony Bennett after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Tony Bennett. He has a new autobiography called "The Good Life."

You know, it's funny there was a period in your life when, after Clive Davis became the president of Columbia Records, when you are asked to do a lot of cover songs of the rock and pop hits of the day. And you often didn't like those songs; didn't feel they were appropriate for you.

The idea was to get you to sell to younger audiences. You did your best to always just do songs that you loved. And it's interesting now, you developed the following, part of younger people who listen to rocket role, and you did you're "MTV Unplugged" show, and the record and the show were a tremendous hit.

I'm interested in how you kind of got connected that way, and what role perhaps your son Danny who's been managing your career played in maybe bridging the gap between that generations.

BENNETT: Well, Danny came up to me one day and said: You know that my songs are starting to connect with people his age. I said: You're kidding. So, he put me on SCTV up in Toronto with John Candy.

GROSS: I remember that. You did "The Fishing Magician" -- not "The Fishing Magician," what was it call? "The Fishing...

BENNETT: I forget now.

GROSS: Well, you went fishing with him, and your head blew up.

LAUGHTER

Well, why don't we hear something from the "Unplugged" CD, and this is "It Had to Be You."

BENNETT: Thank you.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING "IT HAD TO BE YOU")

It seems like dreams
Like I've always had
Could be should be making me glad
Then why am I blue

It's up to you to explain
I'm thinking maybe baby I'll go away
Someday someway maybe
You'll come and say

It's you that I need
And you'll be pleading in vain

It had to be you
It had to be you
I wandered around
and finally found
Somebody who

Could make me be true
Could make me be blue
And even be glad just to be sad
Thinking of you

Some others I've seen
Like never be mean

GROSS: That's Tony Bennett from his "Unplugged" CD, and he has a new memoir called "The Good Life."

You know, we were talking before about composers that you've known. And I'm wondering if any composers have given you a deeper understanding of a song that he sang by kind of talking to you about the song or by singing a line of it for you, emphasizing a certain word?

BENNETT: Well, yes. Harold Allen told me to always exaggerate, and change it anyway you want to. He said: My songs are nothing but a tool to perform with. He said: Whatever you want to do with a song just do it. He said: Just exaggerate it.

And, you know, instead of saying, you know, instead of saying: Don't know why there's no ... say: Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky. You know, just dramatize it, but that's the smallest part of it.

The best example is Ernie Harberg (ph), he wrote a song -- a book called "Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard Of Oz," and he explained that his father said the way to detect a good song is -- to find a good song is if the music hits you emotionally, and the words hits you intellectually, he said: then -- he said: It's almost positive that you have a very good song.

GROSS: Shall we end with a Harold Allen song?

BENNETT: I'd love it.

GROSS: Tony Bennett, it's just been a delight to speak with you. Thank you very very much.

BENNETT: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Tony Bennett's new autobiography is called "The Good Life."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER TONY BENNETT PERFORMING)

I've got the world on a string
Sitting on a rainbow
That the string around my finger
What a world what a life...

I'm Terry Gross, have a great holiday.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

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Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Tony Bennett
High: Singer TONY BENNETT. The once post-war heartthrob is again a hit this time with many MTV viewers. His 1994, MTV "unplugged" concert won him new fans. His new CD is "The Playground" He has the new autobiography: "The Good Life: The Autobiography of Tony Bennett."
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Music Industry; Books; Tony Bennett

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Tony Bennett
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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