Whenever they (fans) tell me they make love to my music, I tell them to do one for me.
Interview by Jeanne Wolf
June 1991. Hollywood.
Cassette tape recorder
Extended Audio version
Tony Bennett: My family name is Benedetto. And Bob Hope, he said, “Let’s Americanize your name” and gave me the name Tony Bennett.
David Gerlach: That’s Tony Bennett, born Tony Benedetto, during an interview recorded in his Hollywood office back in 1991. He was speaking with award-winning Hollywood journalist Jeanne Wolf about the release of a 40-year retrospective of his singing career. They talked about a number of things, including his dreams of singing when he was a kid in Brooklyn and his favorite song from his long career.
[Music: Tony Bennett - “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”]
David Gerlach: And they also talked about what you’re about to hear: stars being shy offstage and not so shy in the bedroom. This is Blank on Blank.
Jeanne Wolf: I don’t know any single performer—not some little guy and not the biggest stars I’ve ever met—who don’t have both these streams: this confidence “I can go out, stop 40,000 people and they will listen to me sing,” and “Was I any good tonight?”
Tony Bennett: Because most performers are very shy. I noticed the good performers I’ve met, like Sinatra. You know, it’s funny everybody sees him as “Come on, baby.” He’s actually a very shy man. The shyest man I ever met in my life was the late Fred Astaire. He used to blush over just conversations. You’d say something and he’d blush. Johnny Carson is shy. He’s never good at a party. He’s great on the camera; he’s gregarious. He’s in front of people. As soon as he gets to a party, he just freezes.
[Music: - Tony Bennett: For Once In My Life]
Tony Bennett: I think what happens with performers…It’s almost like an amateur psychologist. A performer has to be thinking of “What do I do when this happens?” and “Should I say this or should I do that?” So you’re thinking all the time, and it creates a kind of an aloneness away from a group. This kind of “Why is this guy in the corner like that? On the stage he is all over the place and in the corner he’s quiet.” But he is really kind of thinking of his next line or his next song or his next performance.
[Music: “For Once In My Life” continues]
Tony Bennett: I like the fact that I paint. I could stay very quiet away from a lot of people. When I’m on stage they’re are a lot of people. When I’m not on stage it’s quiet.
Jeanne Wolf: Well that’s not maybe not liking people but saving up that energy.
Tony Bennett: Absolutely. That’s exactly it. I happen to love people. I really do. I consider my job, an entertainer’s job, a very noble thing. Making people feel good. You take them to a place where they have problems but, all of a sudden, for one hour or so they forget their problems. To see people walk out and say, “I really liked that show; I just enjoyed myself.” I just love being in this occupation.
[Music: Tony Bennett & Frank Sinatra - “Lady is a Tramp”]
Jeanne Wolf: What kinds of stories do people come and tell you about making love to your music or the romance in their life?
Tony Bennett: Whenever they tell me they make love to my music, I tell them to do one for me. (Laughs)
[Music: “Lady is a Tramp” continues]
Jeanne Wolf: That leads to the only natural question after that which is: do you make love to your music?
Tony Bennett: I’m not going to tell. I have a very private life
Jeanne Wolf: That much you can tell. This is important. This is very significant. Whose music do you put on the record player?
Tony Bennett: I’ve been very lucky with Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
[Music: “Lady is a Tramp” continues]
Tony Bennett: There’s a comedian I know—this is a true story. This comedian, I worked in vaudeville with him years ago. We were all young kids and he said, “I met this girl and she said that I could make it with her if I imitated Nat King Cole.” And he was on top of this girl singing “Mona Lisa”. That’s how he did it. (Laughs)
Jeanne Wolf: (Laughing) Do you think we should vow all these people to secrecy? Do you know what we’re going to do for America?
Tony Bennett: I’m not telling you his name. It’s a true story though. (Laughing continues)
[Music: Tony Bennett - “The Very Thought of You”]
David Gerlach: Now I wanted to play one more clip of this interview before we go. Because if you listen to tony Bennett to set the mood—if you know what I mean—you may want to incorporate one of his pre-performance rituals into your repertoire.
Tony Bennett: I eat a big plate of pasta before I go on stage. Some people don’t eat before they go on stage. I don’t think that way. As long as you get enough rest and you drink some nice water, a little glass of wine with the meal. As long as you feel all right, that’s all. You don’t have to do anything after that.
[Music: Tony Bennett – “Steppin’ Out”]
David Gerlach: Okay, I just wanted to put that out there. Thanks to Jeanne Wolf for allowing us to dust off this great interview. Jeanne’s covered every aspect of show business for television, radio, and print over the years. Follow all of her work at jeannewolfshollywood.com. Amy Drozdowska produced this Blank on Blank with me. Our sound logo comes to us from Jeffrey Alan Jones. And for all the journalists, non-fiction authors and interviewers of all stripes out there, we want to hear your lost interviews. So drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Blank on Blank is distributed by the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.
[Music: “Steppin’ Out” continues]
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