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They sure don’t make ‘em like Tony Bennett anymore

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TULSA, Okla. – As the lights went down and the recorded voice of Frank Sinatra let the sold-out crowd at the River Spirit Event Center know that they were about to “witness the greatest singer in the world,” out came the legendary Bennett. 

Wearing a dashing brown jacket with slacks, the 90-year old crooner blew kisses to the crowd that was already at their feet screaming with applause. But ever the professional Bennett didn’t waste any time before going straight into his set with “Watch What Happens.” 

What happened for the next hour and a half was pure magic. Bennett zipped through a set list that encompassed nearly every facet of his legendary career, packed with signature hits and classic jazz standards. 

Bennett was all old-school cool and timeless elegance, swaying around the stage and charming the audience at every turn. When he signaled the piano player and said “Let’s do Duke Ellington…” launching into “(In My) Solitude,” you couldn’t help but feel like you were in a smoky jazz bar throwing back a gin and tonic.

At a time when most live music is defined by arena spectacles and overblown theatrics, there’s something to be said about Bennett’s back-to-basics approach. Ever since he started his career nearly seven decades ago, Bennett has never chased industry trends or chart success. He’s always been first and foremost about the music, and what great music it is. 

He brought out plenty of George Gershwin, one of Bennett’s favorite songwriters, with “They All Laughed” and “I Got Rhythm.” With “This Is All I Ask,” Bennett sang the opening lyric “As I approach the prime of my life” with a knowingly deadpan look on his face that got big laughs.

Even if one wasn’t familiar with all of the standards Bennett brought out to perform, it was easy to be amazed by the energy and precision he delivered them with onstage. Whether he was screaming “What a night!” mid-song or dancing around the stage during a more upbeat number like “Sing You Sinners,” Bennett had plenty of charm to spare. 

And there’s no way he could’ve made it through the night without mentioning his unlikely partnership with pop superstar Lady Gaga, with whom Bennett recorded a best-selling jazz album. After singing “The Good Life,” Bennett joked “I recorded that song with Lady Gaga! Go buy it because she needs the money.” 

The evening was a joyride from beginning to end, but there’s no denying the latter half packed a bigger punch once Bennett starting bringing out his biggest hits. While Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” may be considered the definitive version, Bennett’s more nuanced take on the Jerome Kern classic brought out its tender beauty: “Lovely, never, never change, keep that breathless charm, won’t you please arrange it?” 

His performance of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (“This was the first song I ever recorded way back when!”) and “For Once In My Life” were equally majestic. And you could almost feel the salty ocean breeze blowing through your hair when Bennett sang what’s undoubtedly his signature song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” 

He could’ve ended on that high note and left the crowd in complete awe. But Bennet went one step further, eliciting audible gasps when he sang five little words: “Fly me to the moon…” When he set the microphone down and performed the iconic tune with nothing but his guitarist Gray Sargent strumming in the background, the entire house was in tears (myself included). 

I’d call Tony Bennett a legend, but even that doesn’t do enough justice to a man as influential and esteemed as he is. When I say he sounded incredible, I don’t mean incredible for a 90-year old. His voice has aged as well as he has, with a robust baritone that hits those high notes just as beautifully now as it did in 1964. 

His show Friday night was lathered in nostalgia, possessing a sort of old-fashioned showmanship sorely missing from modern music. Ending every single song with a double-handed thumbs-up and beaming ear to ear, Bennett looked like there was nothing he’d rather be doing than standing up there on stage singing his heart out. And judging from the teary-eyed reception he received during his two encores, I think it’s fair to say the audience felt the same.

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About the Author

Keaton Bell

Born in Minnesota but raised in Oklahoma, Keaton is a senior at the University of Oklahoma...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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