We asked for your memories of Tony Bennett leading up to his appearance Thursday night at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. And, boy, did you respond. • We received e-mails and letters from residents from throughout North Pinellas that shed a little light on why the jazz and pop music legend is endeared by so many.
Tony Bennett and I met at Junior High School #141 in Astoria, N.Y., at age 13. We danced, and he sang at St. Francis of Assissi Church dances.
Later, when I got married, he sang at my wedding because we knew one another and he also was a singing waiter at the Pheasant Club, the place of my reception. His cousin, Rose Giordano, was my maid of honor! I followed his career for many years but I doubt that he will remember me.
Jean (Lanno) Powers, Palm Harbor
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It was the early 1950s; I was a student at Kelvyn Park High School in Chicago, the co-editor of my school newspaper and a member of Val Lauder's Keen Teen Press Club. Val was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and had formed her "club" so teens from all over the city could meet and interview visiting celebrities, then print the results in their respective high school publications.
That year, we averaged about one or two interviews per month. I have a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and photographs of the famous and nearly famous. But the one that stands out the most is Tony Bennett, who wasn't much older than his adoring fans. In my Daily News photo, there he is … forever young, forever seated at a small upright piano with Yours Truly peeking over his shoulder surrounded by 20-plus of my "closest friends".
And shoved under the brittle plastic sleeve of my old scrapbook is a square corner from a once-white handkerchief. Printed in navy blue script are the words, "Borrowed from Tony Bennett".
Nancy Torum, Palm Harbor
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In the late 1940s, I was attending high school in St. Louis. As a Mother's Day treat, eight of my friends and I took our mothers out for dinner. After dinner, we went to a local hotel because Tony Bennett was appearing there and all of us were "in love" with him (including the moms).
During his performance, he noticed us and came over to our table and talked to us, then sang a song just for us. What a thrill! I will always remember him for making a special night even more so for both moms and daughters.
Dorothy Gilliam, Clearwater
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On Jan. 30, 1983, I was at the Super Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., between the Redskins and Dolphins. I was living in Arlington, Va., temporarily at the time. At halftime, I went to a stand for a refreshment.
All of a sudden I looked up and saw Tony Bennett and two of his bodyguards walking by, heading out of the stadium. I instinctively called out, "Hi Tony!" He immediately came over, shook my hand and said, "Hi! How are you?"
We had a beverage and talked for almost 30 minutes about football, Redskins, John Riggins, where I was from (St. Louis), and other small talk, etc. His bodyguards were flabbergasted. Who is this guy?
Then he shook my hand and said goodbye. I didn't see him again until a few months ago at Ruth Eckerd Hall, where my wife, Dorothy, and I attended a great and memorable performance. I will never forget that chance meeting of Tony Bennett at Super Bowl 1983.
Ray Gilliam, Clearwater
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It was the winter of 1968, and I was in "spy school," military lingo for Fort Holabird, the Baltimore installation where the Army trained its military intelligence officers.
The Army had been given some tickets to a concert at the Baltimore Civic Center, and I was one of the lucky lottery recipients for what would be the welcome relief from the stress of preparing for an overseas, wartime assignment. The concert's warmup was a rising young comedian named Woody Allen, who would be followed by "Mr. Bennett" and then Judy Garland.
Allen thoroughly loosened up the crowd of approximately 15,000, and Mr. Bennett was Tony Bennett … except that his set seemed to last much longer than expected. More than once, he conferred with the orchestra director about what song he could do next, obviously going off the prepared set to cover for a back-stage problem.
When he finally left the stage, Ms. Garland staggered out and mouthed some off-key, slurred lyrics. As the crowd's jeers and boos began to drown her out, she plopped down in the middle of the stage floor and announced, "I'm not drunk … I've got food poisoning." The crowd protests grew louder, and it was Tony Bennett to rescue.
He strolled back on stage, helped Ms. Garland to her feet and allowed her to lean on him as the pair left the stage. With the crowd becoming more raucous and loud, he returned and announced he would replace the "ill" headliner. He did another set, and I don't think he ever repeated a song unless he did another rendition of his trademark salute to San Francisco as his final number of both sets.
In the next few days, the Baltimore papers carried negative reviews of Ms. Garland, along with stories and letters about people demanding their money back. Even had my tickets not been gratis, I would never have asked for a refund.
Besides seeing two entertainment icons and a future icon on the same stage that night, I had gotten an education … about the dignity, class and compassion of Tony Bennett.
Ron Stuart, Palm Harbor
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It was the night before Thanksgiving 1989, and my husband and I had gone to New York to see our son, Gary, play with Illinois Jacquet's big band for the eighth anniversary celebration of the Blue Note. Included was turkey dinner, champagne, cake and anniversary T-shirt.
A flier said "with Very Special Guests (TBA!!)" Gary had heard rumors of all sorts of famous people dropping in to perform. Indeed they were all special — Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Scott, Milt Jackson, Jon Faddis — and they each went up and did a few numbers. But sitting at the table next to us was Tony Bennett, eating his turkey dinner, when Jacquet called him up. No warmup, in the middle of eating a heavy meal, he went to the stage, called out a tune and key and took off! It was truly magic.
Eleanor Vosbein, Dunedin
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I grew up in a town called Elmont, N.Y. When I was in junior high school, back in the late '50s and early '60s, one of my best friends was a girl named Ann Benedetto. She is Mr. Bennett's niece. He used to come to visit his brother and his family, and he was always very nice to the neighborhood kids and would give out autographed pictures and autographs to all who asked.
Unfortunately, Ann and her family moved away while we were still young and we lost touch. She, Sandy Turner and I always had fun, especially if there were a bunch of kids who wanted to play punch ball.
I passed Mr. Bennett in the hall of a hotel when he was appearing in Atlantic City many years ago and I wanted to ask him about his niece Ann, but didn't have the nerve to approach him. I was always sorry that I let that opportunity pass me by.
When I heard about your request for memories I thought I would still try to include mine.
Sheila Cohon Shapiro , Oldsmar
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Do you remember when you and Alexander LePage started out as singing waiters at the Red Door Cafe in NYC? I entered the service and you went on to stardom. Keep up the good work.
Al and Lori LePage, Palm Harbor
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Back in 1967-68, I lived I Glasgow, Scotland, and Tony Bennett and Buddy Rich were appearing at the Alhambra Theater in Waterloo Street. (It's not there now) Anyway, I used to work in a pub called the "Burns Howff" on West Regent Street. I tried to do a promotion, and get Tony and Buddy to come to the pub for a drink. I went down to the theater to speak to them, but the stage door attendant wouldn't let me see them.
So I went back to the pub and got a bottle of good quality Scotch and brought it back to the theater and asked the attendant to give the bottle to Tony and Buddy and thought no more about it.
The next day, Tony was being interviewed by the Evening Citizen newspaper. In the interview to my surprise, he mentions "that some Irish guy" living in Glasgow, Scotland, gave him a present of a bottle of Scotch, and he didn't even leave his name or the name of the pub, because he and Buddy would have loved to enjoy the hospitality and a few drinks at the pub.
I believe their concert was a huge success. One of my great memories of working in the "pub trade" in Scotland. I feel I have come in a big circle, because I now own a pub in Palm Harbor called Mixers Bar & Grill, and Tony Bennett is playing in Clearwater. Small world!
Tony Valente, Palm Harbor
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The year was 1953. I was a first-year student at West Virginia University when a group of us heard that THE Tony Bennett of Blue Velvet fame was appearing at Twin Coaches nightclub in Pittsburgh.
What an exciting adventure it was to see him in person ... he entered down the aisle where we were seated wearing a stunning blue velvet jacket with a big smile and friendly demeanor. When he stopped, gave me a kiss on the cheek and an autographed picture, it became a lasting memory for an 18-year-old fan.
Earlier this year, my adult daughter attended his show at Ruth Eckerd Hall. She now understands why I have appreciated his music for over 55 years.
Keep the hits coming, Tony —You are the greatest!
Shirley P. Lewis
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In the 1960s, I worked in Indianapolis. I do not remember the date, but my friend Tony asked me out to dinner after work on a certain day. As we were driving to a "nice restaurant,'' I realized he was driving to a place where Tony Bennett was opening that night.
We walked in, and there was Mr. Bennett, starting to eat his evening meal. My friend gave him his business card, and he said, "I'm a Tony, too.'' He spoke to the maitre d', and we were given the best seat in the place.
After Tony had sung some of his famous songs, he told us that he had introduced a new song in two days ago, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. The audience was stunned! Then, it erupted. We clapped and men whistled, and Tony just grinned. He then sang two of his familiar ballads. Then, he asked if he could sing San Francisco again. You could hear a pin drop.
I am 83 years old. My father was born in Sicily in 1892. He had a glorious singing voice.
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About 10 years ago, a friend had two extra fourth-row tickets for Tony Bennett at Ruth Eckerd Hall and invited my wife and I to go. Since I am more of a rock and roll fanatic, my friend was surprised when I enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
As an avid concertgoer since the '70s, and a concert promoter in the 1980s and early '90s, I have seen many live shows. This show ranked among the most memorable.
What stays in my mind is Tony's genuine passion for music — he had an enthusiastic and sincere smile on his face the whole evening. He looked so comfortable and happy on the stage. Toward the end of the show, he put the microphone down and without any musical accompaniment or amplification, he just sang. It was beautiful.
• • •
A few years ago, my wife, Patricia, and I were celebrating Valentine's Day with a romantic dinner at Armani's in Tampa.
We were seated at a beautiful candlelit table overlooking the waterfront and a golden sunset.
Moments later, we were reading the oversized menu when I sensed we were not alone at the table. I put the menu aside and Tony Bennett was standing at our table.
Always the gentlemen he smiled and said, "I didn't want to interrupt. I just wanted to say thanks for bringing me back to town. We love playing at Ruth Eckerd."
In a world of disposable celebrities and a society where the word legend is used far too liberally, it's nice to know that true renaissance artists still exist and Tony is at the top of that list.
Last year, Tony celebrated his unprecedented 25th appearance at Ruth Eckerd Hall and this year we have the honor of presenting Tony and all the other stellar headliners at this year's Clearwater Jazz Holiday for the community to savor and enjoy.
Director of Entertainment/Ruth Eckerd Hall
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Back in early 1961 or 1962, I was attending school in San Francisco, and at the time had an opportunity to see Tony Bennett, performing at the SF Opera House.
To put it mildly, and in my opinion, he literally "brought down the house"! At the end of his performance, naturally he was given many curtain calls, and each time would come back to sing another number. As he was leaving the stage after one of these curtain calls, he took a real good "header" — probably tripping on something. Didn't phase him one bit — got up and came back and sang his famous hit — I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
Still think he's one of the world's greatest entertainers.
Bernhardt L. Satryb
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The first time I saw Tony Bennett was in 1942 at the Sanitary Fish Market (a restaurant) in Morehead City, N.C.
Also performing with him were the Clooney sisters, Betty and Rosemary.
The audience was mostly Marines and their wives from the New River/Camp Lejeune, N.C., areas.
Helen W. Kelly
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I can remember my dad disagreeing very much with a couple of his buddies. They were trying to convince him Frank Sinatra was a better singer than you. I loved my dad, an Iowa farmer. He had each one of his four boys take piano lessons, loved to sing and dance and loved to listen to you. What I'm about to tell you is part of the magic of life.
My name is David Cahalan. I'm the son of that Iowa farm guy. I've been singing since I was 4. It has given me a lifetime of shared wonder. Hitching my way out west in my youth, I struggled like everyone finding jobs here and there. After a few years, I landed a great job singing backup vocals for the Carpenters both live and on recordings. These were truly great times, but ended way too abruptly.
Moving back to the Midwest to help my family, I found myself singing lots of jingles, meeting my wife, starting a family and not liking the cold. We moved to Clearwater 20 years ago and Clearwater Beach allowed me to be a big part of my girls' lives. Living a dream singing and playing on the beach while watching my girls dance in the sand. My girls left home a few years back and I had no clue how hard that would be. My girls suggested I go record my own music.
A few nights later, my wife surprised me and got tickets to see you at Ruth Eckerd Hall. I was so anxious having never seen you and yet feeling both pride and sadness, wishing my dad to be there. The concert, the man, his amazing smooth command of the stage, it was all there. Then you did something that I wasn't ready for, you set the microphone down on the floor of the stage and stood there singing a song a cappella, with no mic. I was so moved as a vocalist. I can't tell you what song you sang. All I can remember is at that very moment, I knew I had to record my songs. I was so teared up trying not to cry in a theater so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The last two years I have spent recording my first original solo album, with one song that I performed in a Jim Carrey movie due out February 2009, and a dedication album, my way of saying thanks, to the Carpenters.
I can't thank you enough nor will you ever have a clue what that moment meant to me. Thanks for the strength and courage you help me find, to be willing to put myself out there. Your seriously amazing! Would love the chance to sing a song with you sometime.
All my love,
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I was first aware of this fine singer, when he appeared at a club in the Flatlands of Brooklyn, N.Y. One of the numbers I recall him singing was When the Saints Come Marching In.
After that, we played the jukebox, and we discoverd his beautiful rendition of Because of You, which made him quite successful.
Later, I was in Pennsylvania where he gave a wonderful performance. He even personally signed his "lovely" recording. I treasure it (I am 81 years old). So, I remember the old days.
When he turned 80, he came out with a wonderful duet CD, which I purchased together with the DVD of this absolutely good performance. His appearance at Ruth Eckerd Hall this year was absolutely wonderful. His voice is still strong and his feelings when he sings make me tremble. He is the best. I hope he goes on forever.
P.S. We love Tony!
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In the 1950s, Tony Bennett took time out to visit and entertain the workers at Columbia Records in Bridgeport, Conn. They pressed the vinyl records that were popular in that era.
My brother-in-law, who was like a father to me, was elated when he told this 12-year-old kid about Tony's visit.
Bless you Tony
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Never seen Tony Bennett in person, but my husband and I fell in love listening to his rendition of Because of You back in the '50s; now married 55 years, he's still our favorite and it's still our song. He's the best! Thanks for the opportunity to say so.