As an unabashed Tony Bennett fan, I’ve listened to his CDs, viewed his television shows, heard him sing twice in person and tried to figure out: just what makes Mr. Bennett so mesmerizing?
After viewing the documentary “The Zen of Bennett,” I began to get an idea. Bennett reveals a part of himself that is both startling and honest – his dreams, his hopes and even his fears, which in turn inspire his singing.
Directed by Unjoon Moon, the film slowly lets us into Bennett’s world, especially about music – “music is either good or it isn’t.”
Painting and sketching seems almost as large a part of Bennett’s world as music. Living in New York City, he looks out on Central Park to draw inspiration for his artwork – he’s a very fast sketch artist – as well as going to a museum to gaze at the paintings and sculptures. As Bennett learns and thinks about art, it feels like the viewer is right there with him.
But it’s not just art and music that Bennett talks about – he relates his experiences in WWII on the front lines, memories that seem to haunt him to this day, of hearing a “whistle bomb” and seeing horrible things that made him decide to become a pacifist. We also see another personal side of Bennett when he interacts with his son Danny (who created and produced the documentary) and his other children.
Then there are the fascinating scenes with Bennett and many famous singers working on duets with him – a gracious Natalie Cole, a nervous Carrie Underwood (she brought cupcakes, which Bennett enjoyed), an understated Norah Jones, a nattily-dressed (and also nervous) John Mayer, a Marilyn Monroe-like Lady Gaga, a quiet Willie Nelson, a dignified Aretha Franklin and the immensely talented but tragic Amy Winehouse. One of the most touching moments occurs in the film when Bennett, noticing that Winehouse is completely overwhelmed, tells her a story which sets her at ease.
It is perhaps Michael Buble that Bennett seems to have the closest friendship with – the two joke and talk as if they have known each other forever, with Buble appearing to have almost a brotherly outlook towards him.
Bennett even flies off to Italy to do a recording with opera singer Andrea Bocelli. We see him go back to his father’s small Italian town of Calabria – deserted now – and suddenly through the hills by the village comes Bennett’s singing, crisp and clear, marking a mysterious moment in time.
At the film’s beginning, Bennett talked about how, when he was much younger, suits were made to last and were of good quality.
That describes Tony Bennett perfectly.