NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There are moments in life that are rare and special. To hear Tony Bennett sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" live in concert at the tender age of 90 was one of those occasions. The iconic singer treated a packed Saenger on Wednesday night to a performance that included several special memories.
The Tony Bennett Trio, which consisted of piano, upright bass and drums, got the night started just after 8 p.m.with a ten minute warm up of instrumental standards. When it was time for the New York-born crooner to emerge, they played a recording of Frank Sinatra introducing Bennett as the greatest singer in the world.
Bennett kicked off his show with "Watch What Happens," a song he recorded with Natalie Cole on his "Duets II" album from 2011. That album made Bennett the only artist at the age of 85 to hit number one on the Billboard chart. From there it was "They All Laughed," a Gershwin brothers tune he recorded with Lady Gaga for their number one "Cheek to Cheek" album two years ago.
The songs from the "Great American Songbook" flowed through the night as he grabbed center stage next to his piano player. At age 90, the lovable master's voice is still strong, even when the classic songs demand a final crescendo. While he may not have been pitch perfect, it's still Tony Bennett and he was fearless as he belted out nearly two dozen songs.
There were many highlights like "The Way You Look Tonight" or his medley of million-selling hits "Because of You," "Cold Cold Heart," "Rags to Riches" and "Who Can I Turn To." Then he introduced a classic that started it all for the man born as Anthony Dominick Benedetto.
"This is the first song I ever recorded and that was a long time ago," said Bennett, which brought the first of many chuckles from the crowd. Bennett delivered a well-worn version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."
An accomplished showman, Bennett showed his sense of humor throughout the performance. He talked of recording with Lady Gaga and asked the crowd to "buy her records because she really needs the money."
From the "Good Life" to "For Once in My Life," Bennett and his trio provided an intimate New York Jazz club vibe that worked well on a larger stage.
Then there's his signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." It seemed Bennett understood the gravity of this performance, deftly hitting each note. The song clearly touched his fans and when he finished they delivered the first of several standing ovations.
Twice, Bennett talked about how this "city created the greatest music in the world." He said he felt "so humbled" and that his "favorite singer in the world is Louis Armstrong. Nobody played like him or sang like him. No one smiled better than Louis Armstrong. Let's do a song for Louis Armstrong."
Nothing from Bennett would be more appropriate than "Smile," composed by Charlie Chaplin, which prompted another standing ovation.
Bennett wouldn't or couldn't be done without "Fly Me to the Moon." For his final song, Bennett dug deep for another touching rare musical moment. Bennett began singing into his mic but then he put the mic on the piano and walked to the front of the stage. He finished the classic with no microphone, just singing to his fans, with a hushed piano accompaniment.
The crowd quieted while Bennett emotionally serenaded everyone, finishing a song like only Tony can with a flourishing "I Love You!"
For the man with the never-ending career, he let everyone at the Saenger know how he felt about each and every one of them with that song, with that performance, in that moment. Eyes welled, everyone cheered and Tony walked off stage blowing a final kiss.
The night was over, well almost. While the crowd begged for an encore, Bennett walked back on stage for a few more waves and a thumbs up to show his gratitude for the adoring crowd before he finally disappeared backstage ending a legendary night from a legendary performer,