David Evanier has clearly spent a great deal of time researching this biography of Tony Bennett. The book is packed with quotations from interviews that have been conducted especially for this book, rather than following the usual pattern of celebrity biography of lifting material from previous media interviews or books. Evanier must have spent a considerable amount of time speaking to people who have known Bennett throughout his life.
Unusually for a biography, the 85 years of Bennett's life are accorded more or less equal treatment in terms of space. Normally in a book of this kind, the story of the artist's beginnings are told, followed by a detailed account of the ascent to fame, but then the wilderness years and the present day are given short shrift. Not in this book, where Bennett's brief stay at MGM/Verve under the hand of Mike Curb is explained in some detail, contrary to my expectations. Bennett's career post 1986, when he returned to recording after a nine year layoff is also heavily assessed.
The prose is readable and entertaining. Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the book is that although the author is clearly a great admirer of Bennett (although is it really credible to fawn, as Evanier does, "[Bennett] is, astoundingly, a better singer than he ever was before"?), he does not shy away from describing Bennett's sometimes supposedly harsh treatment of those close to him. Bennett's parting with Ralph Sharon is an episode from which Bennett does not appear to emerge well, yet Evanier is commendably careful to tell both sides of the story in some detail without passing judgment.
Where the book falls down is in its proof reading. As a reviewer has observed on the American amazon.com site, Evanier repeats himself quite often within a few paragraphs. There are also obvious errors such as the dating of "Playin' With My Friends", Bennett's album of duets from 2001 as 1991 at one place in the text. Evanier mixes up the songs "Why Do People Fall In Love" and "How Do you Keep The Music Playing" when referring to Sinatra's performance of the latter during which Sinatra instructed Bennett to sing the song, yet he refers to the former title, and it is clear from the paragraph that he has got the wrong song with the wrong story. It is also described as Alan and Marilyn Bergman's song - true enough (if he meant to refer to "How Do you Keep The Music Playing"), but they wouldn't have got far without the music by Michel Legrand! The whole paragraph is a bit of a mess. A final example is the comment on "When Do The Bells Ring For Me" that "It's no wonder that the song has become a showstopper at almost every Bennett concert." I have been attending Bennett concerts for almost a dozen years, but have never heard him perform this live, nor has it appeared on any set list that I have seen for countless more concerts.
There are also some strange omissions. Although the removal of Ralph Sharon as Bennett's pianist is explained, his replacement, the mercurial Lee Musiker, is hardly mentioned. Musiker must be given some credit for maintaining Bennett's musical energy in later years. Further, although Bennett's comeback album "The Art Of Excellence" is (rightly) praised, its sequel eighteen years later, "The Art Of Romance", for which an argument can be made that it is a superior work, is not reviewed.
On the whole, however, a very enjoyable and worthwhile book. It makes an excellent companion to Bennett's own informative memoir, "The Good Life", and is vastly superior to previous efforts by those such as Tony Jasper.
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