A Small Story of Tony Bennett's Musical Interests.
by John Diliberto 7/21/2023
Tony Bennett, the now legendary and iconic singer has left the planet at age 96. That is a pretty good run. He was performing and recordings almost right to the end, notably with Lady Gaga.
I don’t have great knowledge into Bennett’s sound, his contribution to extending the American Songbook or his place in the iconography of music. You can read all that in well-thought out obituaries like this in the New York Times.
I do have a story that might have a different kind insight into the breadth of his curiosity and musical interests.
In the 1980s I produced a radio series called Totally Wired: Artists in Electronic Sound. We produced 122 episodes of documentaries and interviews with everyone from John Cage to Depeche Mode to Keith Jarrett. Needless to say, Tony Bennett would not have appeared on this show. But in the mid-1980s we produced an episode on German composer, Peter Michael Hamel. He has slipped into obscurity now, but in the 70s and 80s, he was on the bleeding edges of world fusion, electronic music and minimalism. He had a world fusion band called Between that was not unlike Oregon, and he recorded solo keyboard albums of mesmerizing minimalist cycles like Nada, Colours of Time and Bardo. Some of it was released on the Celestial Harmonies label, which put him smack into the New Age movement. All to say, it was pretty outside the mainstream.
So I was surprised when I got a phone call from a women saying that Tony Bennett would like to call me. Of course I said yes, and shortly after he did. He had heard our Peter Michael Hamel episode of Totally Wired on WBEZ in Chicago and was enthralled by the music. “So what is this wired thing?” he asked. He wanted to know more about Hamel, was engaged by his concepts and wanted to know how to get the records. “He is a cool cat”, exuded Bennett. I was shocked and thrilled to have this legend actually noticing my work, or at least, someone else’s work through me. I hooked him up and he invited us to his next concert in Atlantic City. We had backstage passes and went in for what was essentially a meet and greet. He went down the line of fans and when he came to me and my then-wife and Echoes co-producer and host, Kimberly Haas and said, “I know who you guys are!” We did not look like the 60-something blue-hairs in the line. We chatted briefly and he signed a copy of one of his albums that I wanted to give my mother.
That’s my Tony Bennett story which came to mind instantly upon news of his passing. It shows you that you can’t really pigeonhole anybody’s tastes, especially Tony’s.