Tony Bennett at Carnegie Hall   52 Years Later You're There

Today we mostly think of Tony Bennett as a jazz singer but back in 1962 Tony Bennett was one of Columbia Records' pop music stars. He had his first #1 hit for the label in 1951 with "Because of You". In 1953 Bennett's "Rags to Riches" topped the Billboard charts for 8 weeks. "Stranger In Paradise" only made it to #2 that year but you couldn't avoid it on the radio and few back then wanted to.

With popular music taking a turn towards rock'n'roll in the mid '50's Bennett wouldn't again score a #1 hit single but he still was often found on the singles charts and was enormously popular in American pop culture throughout that decade and well beyond. In fact, despite the musical upheavals that took place during the second half of the 20th Century, Bennett's popularity never diminished. He was simultaneously a pop singer, a jazz singer, and an all-around icon of "cool" and still is.

The expert impressionist Sammy Davis, Jr. made excellent fun of Bennett's vocalizing on his 1955 debut album Starring Sammy Davis, Jr. (Decca) and more recently on "Saturday Night Live" Alec Baldwin and Martin Short performed hilarious Bennett impressions on the spoof "The Tony Bennett Show." Rumor has it—and I don't know whether or not it's true—that when in Las Vegas both Bennett and Louis Armstrong carried letters from the Mayor instructing the police to not bust them if they were caught smoking or with marijuana joints in their pockets. A great story even if not true.

Even a classic like "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" only reached #19 in 1962 (perhaps in part because it was issued as the "B" side of "Once Upon a Time") but when disc jockeys began flipping over the "A" side and playing "I Left My Heart In San Francisco", it eventually was certified gold, won "Record of the Year" and "Best Male Vocal Performance" Grammys® and went on to become Bennett's signature song.

Bennett's long time accompanist Ralph Sharon from whom he's now estranged and who leads his orchestra on this live recording, introduced Bennett to the song, which was written by his composer-friends George Corey and Douglass Cross. In December of 1961 Bennett first sang it in The Venetian Room of San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.

Bennett had released well over a dozen albums (including three with The Count Basie Orchestra, one of which was a live performance) when he appeared at Carnegie Hall on the evening of June, 9th, 1962 backed by The Ralph Sharon Orchestra, in a show directed by Arthur Penn ("Bonnie and Clyde", "The Miracle Worker", "Alice's Restaurant", etc) and Gene Saks ("Barefoot in the Park", "The Odd Couple" and many Neil Simon plays). The 20 piece orchestra included ample brass and string sections, Sharon's longtime trio drummer Billy Exner, guitarist Kenny Burrell and Candido Camero on bongos and conga.

Best known as a recording star, with some nightclub experience, Bennett decided to follow large venue performing veteran Judy Garland as the next pop performer to play the fabled classical music venue. Garland's Carnegie Hall performance became an instant legend and the double LP on Capitol was a huge success, with the record still considered among the best pre-rock era concerts ever put on vinyl or polycarbonate—along with, of course, Belafonte's from 1959 that was issued complete on vinyl (this one is edited down to fit the format).

Bennett's decision was risky but the show quickly sold out and obviously the folks behind him, including Columbia Records and Bennett's management, put together a terrific production team and delivered a generous budget for both the music and the recording.

While Columbia Records rarely gave recording engineers their due, here Frank Laico finally gets his name in print as does the tape engineer, the remote equipment supervisor, and even the tape editor gets named. The microphones are identified (Bennett's was a Schoeps) as was the recording tape (1/2" 3-track MMM (3M) 120 High Output).

And deserve the credit they did! The original of this double LP set was a sonic spectacular that now sounds veiled and somewhat distant compared to this stupidly, insanely spectacular sounding reissue cut for the first time from the edited original 3-track tape. Two recorders were utilized, probably either one for backup or for when reels were about to run out of tape. We know the reels were edited both because the complete concert was eventually issued on CD and because here, with the high resolution mastering and jet black backgrounds of the QRP pressing, you can better hear the edits—not that they distract from the proceedings.

Bennett is in superb voice (though I keep seeing Alec Baldwin now, damn him!) as he runs through many of his hits, some Broadway tunes and a few oddities.

The opener, "Lullaby of Broadway" with Candido pounding away on his bongos and the crowd going crazy from the get go , sets the tone for the performance and the audience's enthusiast reaction—including one butt-hole whistler whose "mouth selfies" can be heard throughout. The audience's adulation sounds over the top but was clearly genuine.

Bennett was no Belafonte at the time in terms of working a crowd or ingratiating stage patter and the between song material lacks the polish and "you're the only person in the audience to whom I'm talking" magic that Belafonte managed, but once Bennett opened his mouth to sing, his vocal and emotional power were undeniable. That he's still at it, and is as popular as ever with music lovers or all ages is a testament to his talent and his ability to remain contemporary and relevant in an era where so much has changed since 1962. On the other hand talent, a good band and great songs will never go out of style even if the latter two have all but disappeared on the pop charts (there's still plenty of talent including, IMO Mylie Cyrus) and Lady GaGa who recorded an upcoming album with Mr. Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett has long reminded me of Bruce Springsteen, physically and vocally. If you don't get the connection Bennett's song/story closer here "De Glory Road" will make it.

This reissue is incredible in every way, starting with the cover art. The laminated cover's front and back photos are of far higher resolution and quality than the ones on the original. The same is true of the inside cover photos that include the full wide orchestra shot cropped on the original. But most importantly, the mastering by Ryan K. Smith from the original 3-track master tapes is nothing short of astonishing. It offers proof to anyone who will listen, both that AAA vinyl kills any digital format and that the art of recording, especially live recording, reached its pinnacle during the '50's and '60's.

You'll be transported, entertained, wowed and amazed by both Bennett's and the orchestra's performances and the sonic documentation. It goes without saying that this is highly recommended, but I said it anyway.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Ortofan's picture

They could have taken this reissue to the next level by including a third disc with most, if not all, of the material omitted from the original 2-disc LP set. Consider these great songs that are missing: "Fascinating Rhythm", "Put on a Happy Face", "That Old Black Magic", "I've Got the World on a String", "This Could Be the Start of Something", "Taking a Chance on Love", "Pennies from Heaven", "Smile", and, last but not least, "The Best Is Yet to Come". A huge opportunity missed, I’d say.

Michael Fremer's picture
It was difficult enough getting use of the 3 track tape. It's not clear if licensing the extra material was even possible. And I'm sure it was expensive to produce. Whether or not the cut material exists in an analog form that could have been spliced together is also questionable. In the digital domain "splicing" it together is easy. So we should be happy with what we've got. I am.
AnalogJ's picture

Or...Why not take all of me??

Why not release the whole concert as was done on CD? By the way, is that worth seeking out?

In any event, the original 2lp set has been difficult to find. I got a copy and it's terrific. This is tempting, but why not add one disc and make it REALLY worth getting?

Michael Fremer's picture
It may not be possible. We don't know in what form those tracks are today. Two track mixdowns with the residual 3 track material chucked? We just don't know....Would you buy a third LP with incorrect running order with the extra material just spliced together? Just curious.
Ortofan's picture

...with incorrect running order - with the extra material just spliced together? In a minute. Given Bennett's fine form in that concert, the rest of the songs should be included. Now, if there was only some way to put a sock in that whistler...

Bigrasshopper's picture

You, me and probably everyone who listens have been noticing a kind of fully relaxed or high resolution smoothness to rececent releases from Ryan at Sterling that I also hear on Kevin's remasterings at Coherent. I wonder if they have made similar upgrades. We have heard about Kevin's cables, but I'm curious what upgrades Sterling has made to their analog chain. And by the way, if a studio can make sonic improvements from a manufacturer 's product at a discount in exchange for an advertising opportunity, I can't think of a better way for all of us to become the beneficiaries.

Michael Fremer's picture
Kevin Gray at AcousTech, once a "cable denier" is no more. His facility was upgraded with AudioQuest cable at the behest of Joe Harley who does all of the Music Matters Blue Notes there with his partner Ron Rambach. In addition, Kevin's electronics have been replaced and/or upgraded and as you and others have noted, the results are easily audible. At Sterling, you have a combination of a cable upgrade—at least in some room—to Wireworld Platinum Eclipse that Greg Calbi enthusiastically endorses, and Ryan masters in the late George Marino's room on gear impeccably set-up and maintained by head tech Barry Wolifson. It all pays off. You can be sure the investments have been made because of increased lacquer cutting activity.
ArnoldLayne's picture

oh jesus - $2000 "interconnects"

AnalogJ's picture

I still can't get this cut. Not his strength. It's more show-biz than what Bennett does best, in my opinion.

My favorite cut, possibly? "It Amazes Me".

Ajcrock's picture

Micheal, you mentioned the original label was a bit distant. What label do you have? Mine says CSP Collectors Series on a light blue label. Which is odd because the cover says 360 sound. But then again the store I purchased it from was selling pot on the side.

Michael Fremer's picture
They used the original jacket artwork but repressed for this reissue series.
Ajcrock's picture

Thanks. The reissue is quite nice. Very quiet.