How often does a performer answer five standing ovations with five encores? Even then, after those five numbers, Tony Bennett, clasping the hands of those lined up along the entire stage front as he withdrew from sight, was still cheered until the stage door swung closed at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall last night.
Bennett began some songs gently and ended them fortissimo. He disguised others in spoken introductions and then glided into the tunes over the recognition applause. He was warm and smiling and took as much delight in his audience as it did in him. His voice had an initial touch of throaty resonance, but he soon cleared that out and handled with aplomb everything from baritone to tenor. He was, simply, a joy to hear and his stage presence was totally professional. One wonders if young singers are listening and watching.
Bennett's selection of songs touched many bases, from Richard Rodgers to Duke Ellington, from Charlie Chaplin to the Beatles. "It Had to Be You," "The Man I Love," and "Body and Soul," were outstanding ballad renditions. "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" swaggered and swung and Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child," his final encore, deeply moved.
Bennett was supported by a first-class trio he brought along: pianist Ralph Sharon, bassist John Burr and drummer Joe LaBarbera. The three were augmented for the second half by a 13-piece brass and reed section of crack local players.