march 2012

Tony Bennett: Romance, as per a master of the art.

Well, Yes. It Is Romantic.

By David McGee

Tony Bennett
Concord Records

Culled from Bennett’s own Improv label catalogue, Isn’t It Romantic features ten selections from two exceptional summit meetings with pianist Bill Evans (captured on the albums Together Again and the majestic Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album, from 1977 and ’75, respectively) that found both artists at their sensitive, empathetic best. Evans’s restrained, succinct accompaniment has the reflective feel of an internal monologue (most breathtaking on the shifting moods he explores in “My Foolish Heart,” with passages alternately twinkling and brooding), while a Bennett in strong, assertive voice adds scintillating subtext to the lyrics with the impeccable timing of his phrasing in, for example, answering Evans’s probing minute-long discourse at the start of “Days of Wine and Roses” with a reading as wary as it is warm, as if Bennett were cognizant of it being the title song of the raw Blake Edwards-directed movie depicting the horrors of alcoholism rather than the wistful love song others of others’ interpretations. Conversely, one of this collection’s real treats is in the joy Bennett and Evans project in a lively treatment of Cole Porter’s bucolic romp, “Dream Dancing,” right down to Bennett’s emitting a delighted, satisfied laugh as the track fades out after nearly a minute-and-a-half of Evans working some quirky theme-and-variation treatments on the melody that the singer meets head-on with his own savvy rhythmic retort.

Tony Bennett, ‘Isn’t It Romantic,’ with the Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet, from the Sings Rodgers and Hart album (1973).

However magical those Bennett-Evans moments, the other five trio and quartet recordings here are special in their own right. Drawn from his excellent 1973 album, Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook), the title track features Bennett’s low-flame vocal exquisitely burnished by Ruby Braff’s moody cornet flourishes and George Wright’s softly comping guitar; on “I Could Write a Book” (another Rodgers and Hart entry), Bennett affects an attitude at once seasoned and wondrous with respect to “how to make two lovers of friends,” in an understated arrangement colored by Wright’s bluesy guitar and Braff’s extroverted cornet atmospherics. With the Torrie Zito Quartet, Bennett is aided not only by the Quartet (piano, guitar, bass, drums) but by strings and brass, all put to affecting use on a treatment of “As Time Goes By” rendered as a midtempo swing item with a horn-heavy chart of rising intensity; like “As Time Goes By,” the album closing message of “Life Is Beautiful” is one of the better entries from Bennett’s spotty1975 Life is Beautiful album. A succinct 2:25 gem of easygoing swing; warm, cushiony horns; and a soft, romantic Bennett vocal, the tune closes this affair on a heartening note even as it imparts the collection’s underlying theme. Yes, it is indeed romantic, as chronicled by a master of the art.

Tony Bennett’s Isn’t It Romantic is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024