The show opened with Antonia Bennett, Tony Bennett’s daughter, taking the stage and singing her rendition of a half-dozen jazz standards, including Embraceable You, Lady and the Tramp and ’S Wonderful.
But it was the legend himself that the crowd had come to see, and when Tony Bennett finally came out of the wings at the Academy of Music on Friday night and took center stage, the crowd went absolutely wild, giving Bennett a standing ovation even before he had sung one note.
When they finally settled down — and it took a while — Bennett opened with songs like Maybe This Time and Everybody Loves A Winner, proving his voice has not weakened at all over the years. In fact, if it’s possible, he sounds even better today.
Proof of that is probably his latest album, Duets II, on which he shares duets with such others as Lady Gaga and the now-deceased Amy Winehouse. Released in September to coincide with Bennett’s 85th birthday, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making Bennett the oldest living artist to ever debut at the top of the chart.
But Bennett didn’t seem interested in numbers and charts. The only thing he was interested in was sharing his voice and his beautiful music with the ever-appreciative audience, which continually gave him standing ovations. And so he continued, belting out other standards including I Got Rhythm, Just In Time, Because Of You, and one of the crowd favorites, I Wanna Be Around.
Stopping briefly, Bennett shared some stories from his six decades as a performer, including the time he was singing with Pearl Bailey when Bob Hope did something that changed Bennett’s life.
“Bob came to see the show one night, said he liked me, and asked me what my name was,” Bennett told the audience. “When I told him my real name was Anthony Dominick Benedetto, he said that was much too long to fit on a marquee and changed it to Tony Bennett.”
And so, here stood the magnificent Tony Bennett today, accompanied by four talented musicians — Lee Musiker on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar, Harold Jones on drums, and Marshall Wood on bass. Bennett was quick to acknowledge their musicianship several times during the show.
Bennett also was quick to acknowledge how much he enjoyed playing Philadelphia, and most especially appearing in the Academy of Music, which he called a great concert hall, one of the best in the world. As a way of proving that the acoustics at the Academy are second to none, he asked that his sound man turn off the sound, and he sang his next song without a microphone. Even those in the fourth balcony could hear every word.
At one point, Bennett’s daughter returned to the stage to sing a duet with her father, and, although the crowd was courteous, it was Tony Bennett, the star, they had come to see. And he didn’t disappoint — not at any point of the almost two-hour show.
And his stamina never seemed to waver, even as he continued with the softly sung Shadow of Your Smile, Fly Me to the Moon, Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, and, of course, I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
By the end of the evening, Bennett seemed genuinely pleased by the people in this City of Brotherly Love and the reception he got after his performance — a little different, he said, from when he first performed 60 years ago.
And the audience was equally appreciative as they got to hear a true megastar leaving his heart, this time, right here in Philadelphia. ••