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The Gig: The Timeless Tony Bennett, Then As Now

The embodiment of a dialogue between jazz and pop

Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Evans in 1978

Tony Bennett sings the title track of his new album, The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern (RPM/Columbia), as a literal valediction, a parting word to the faithful. He’s accompanied on piano by both Bill Charlap, with whom he shares an artist credit for the album, and Renee Rosnes, Charlap’s partner by marriage. “Look for the Silver Lining” is the full name of the song, which they negotiate in an oratorical cadence, with softly glowing chords and a chromatic key change about halfway through. There’s a delicate improvised piano interlude but the focus remains fixed on Bennett, who takes evident care in his enunciation of the lyrics, as if to lift them from idiomatic cliché into a realm of moral authority, or maybe just accumulated wisdom.

Bennett is now 89. He’s been a popular singer since the early 1950s, with some ups and downs, and a force in jazz for just as long. Over the last two decades, following a turn on MTV Unplugged that brought him back into mainstream circulation, he has been the perfect embodiment of an ongoing dialogue between jazz and classic pop: the grand old gent of the Great American Songbook, agreeably single-minded in purpose. His albums in this century have generally involved complex logistics and synergistic outreach, to fellow vocalists ranging from k.d. lang to B.B. King. With Duets II, released in 2011, Bennett became the oldest living artist ever to top the Billboard album chart-surprisingly, his first time at No. 1. Last year he did it again with Cheek to Cheek, his marquee collaboration with Lady Gaga, which led to a barnstorming world tour.

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