In the end, there was Tony Bennett. Oft quoted and making a rock-hard point, Frank Sinatra once mused that Bennett was the finest male vocalist performing. And here in arguably the Autumn of his years is Bennett, performing at a new career height. Sings Ellington Hot and Cool
is the fourth in a successful series of discs focusing exclusively on contemporaries of Bennett. These releases include 1992’s Perfectly Frank
Frank Sinatra, Columbia 52965); 1993’s Steppin’ Out
(Fred Astaire, Columbia 57424); and Tony Bennett on Holiday
(Billie Holiday, Columbia 67774). The release of the fourth of this quartet corresponds with the heavily documented centenary of Ellington’s birth. It is also a poignant offering by a master musician at the turn of the century/millennium.
The Ellington Canon Bennett mixes it up with well-represented pieces (“Sophisticated Lady”, “Prelude To A Kiss”) and those not so well represented (“Azure”, “Day Dream”). Arrangers Ralph Burns and Jorge Calandrelli cloth all of these pieces in appropriate settings: rhythm section alone, rhythm section with strings, big band, all to great effect. Bennett’s instrument is in mature fine form. He caresses and croons, sings and cries out in joy. It is with obvious joy that he sings this Ellingtonia, taking the blandest lyrics and making them sound as if written by Keats.
Gary Sargent’s guitar looms large on the sonic landscape, showing up in several solos. Wynton Marsalis shows up out of his busy schedule to provide some succinct soloing. Al Gray’s trombone and Joel Smirnoff’s violin also make serious contributions. But the leader of the band is Bennett. Classy, urbane, gentle, Bennett is today the finest male singer. Bravo.
Personnel: Tony Bennett: Vocals; Ralph Sharon: Piano; Gary Sargent: Guitar; Raul Langosch: Bass; Clayton Cameron: Drums; Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet; Al Grey: Trombone; Joel Smirnoff: Violin; Ralph Burns, Jorge Calandrelli, Arranger/conductor.