Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...

Season 1 Episode 5

Tony Bennett

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Dec 31, 2008 on Sundance Channel
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Episode Summary

Two of the greatest performers of their respective generations discuss the people and the songs which make up the history of modern popular music. Tony Bennett, the irrepressible 83 year-old wonder, joins Elvis for his interview/performance show. The legendary singer, whose career spans the extremes of covering Hank Williams in the 1950's to winning Grammy's and partnering with k. d. lang in the first decade of the 21st century, is well matched with Elvis, whose own musical tastes and styles run the gamut of genres - past, present and future. Tony, accompanied by jazz pianist Bill Charlap, sings several classics and, according to the Sundance web site, "pulls a very special surprise guest from the audience for a spontaneous and irresistible duet".moreless
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Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • Song List

      Cold, Cold Heart (Written by Hank Williams)
      Performed by Elvis (Guitar/Vocal), Tony Garnier (Upright Bass)

      The Way You Look Tonight (Written By Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern)
      Performed by Tony Bennett (Vocal), Bill Charlap (Piano)

      I'm Old Fashioned (Written By Jerome Kern /Johnny Mercer)
      Performed by Tony Bennett (Vocal), Bill Charlap (Piano)

      I've Got The World On A String (Written By Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)
      Performed by Tony Bennett (Vocal), Diana Krall (Piano/Vocal)

      Who Cares? (So Long As You Care For Me) (Written by George/Ira Gershwin)
      Performed by Tony Bennett (Vocal), Bill Charlap (Piano)

  • QUOTES (20)

    • Elvis: What do you take me for, a mug? I'm not gonna stand up here and sing a Tony Bennett song.

    • Elvis: I mean, I tell people to this day that I once sang with you and Count Basie and they look at me like, "He's been at the green tobacco again," you know?
      Tony: Where'd you get that?
      Elvis: Well, I was hoping, you know, we might have a little in the dressing room, but they haven't sprung for that yet.

    • Elvis: One of the things I wanted to ask you about is lyrics that you have sung. These songs are wonderful, Great American Songbook songs. The way in which love is expressed is very different than the … say, the way, the specifics of erotic desire in some contemporary songs. They are the equivalent of the way the camera used to fade to black in the movies and we just used to see some symbolic things to guess at what had happened.
      Tony: That's too intellectual.

    • Tony: And then Mitch gave me this song, and he said, "How do you like it?" And it was a country song. And I said, "Well, I think it's a terrific song … but I wouldn't know how to sing it." So he said "What are you talking about?" I said, "Well … it's a country song." And in those days, country music stayed down in the bible belt and New York was very hip. And I said, "I wouldn't know how to sing it." And he said, "Well, if we have to tie you to a tree, you're gonna sing this whether you like it or not." So he tied me to a tree ... And I never regretted it because it was the first country song that sold internationally around the whole world … I couldn't believe it and then I got this call from Nashville, Tennessee. Hank Williams (is) on the phone, he wrote the song, and I'm "Mr. Williams, hello, how are you?" And he said, "Tony … what's the idea of ruining my song?"

    • Tony: I remember Ira Gershwin, one time, he heard a record that Ella Fitzgerald made of his song, and he said, "I never knew I wrote that well."

    • Tony: In our country, the '20's and '30's and '40's had George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer … and so on, I mean there were others that are just as great - Burton Lane and Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, you know, is my favorite … The songs, I am convinced, because I sing in Asia and I sing in Europe, and I start singin' a Cole Porter song or a Gershwin song and the whole audience starts singin' it with me. They are America's greatest ambassadors. We have created the greatest popular music that has ever been written and will not be topped because it's not dated. It doesn't sound old fashioned, it's not old. The corporations will say that's old music. It's not old music, it's great music, and it comes out of the United States.

    • Tony: I grew up in the band business and I'll tell you, it was a higher level, and I'm talkin' about the public now, the audience was so with the music business. And it was an era where the public decided who was gonna become famous, not a corporation telling you who you should like. 'Cause it's completely different today. But now it's, things are looking up, because with the iPod, it's changing where the public is choosing their own songs. They don't have to get hyped into buying something that they find that they didn't like it two weeks later. They're choosing what they like and it's amazing … that major change in the record business now.
      Elvis: I have to ask you, Tony, do you have an iPod? Are you …
      Tony: No, I don't.

    • Elvis: I know when I was a younger man … I would have to confess that daytime was not my friend. It was the inconvenient bright time between night clubs, you know. And as I've toured as I've got older, I found that now I have the time to see the cities of the world, to go to the art collections of the world.

    • Tony: There's so many great, great painters throughout history, you know. And Leonardo, of course, my being Italian, I have to tell you, to hell with The Sopranos and The Godfather, you know, because Leonardo is the greatest genius that ever lived. He invented the airplane, the submarine … everything, you know? The anatomy … he's just the greatest genius that ever lived. (Elvis agrees) And he's Italian … and that's without guns!

    • Elvis: As I mentioned before, my father is a singer, and still is a better singer than I am and he …
      Tony: I know.
      Elvis: I sang with an orchestra for the first time in 1982 at the Royal Albert Hall and he called me on the eve of the concert and said "Do you know what you're doing?" I said, "No." And he said, "Well, I have one piece of advice for you … Never look up to a note, always look down." And oddly enough, I've always found that whenever I have a little throat problem and I'm confronting a high note in a song, I find that that comes into my mind and it does help me.
      Tony: Good.
      Elvis: Do you have any kind of visualization technique that allows you the freedom to sing the way you do?
      Tony: Yeah, the public.

    • Tony: I just sing popular songs, I don't do message songs.

    • Tony (speaking of MLK: I still think that everybody should have been there … in America. Everybody should've showed up for him … because it's absolute ignorance that … his race is treated so terribly. He re-emphasized our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. And we should hold on to our forefathers' beliefs and don't allow anybody to change their beliefs, 'cause that's our constitution.

    • Elvis: I know that you also don't like to sing songs that contain any sort of message glorifying conflict and war. Do you feel that you are … among the people that are singing who actually experienced combat in the Second World War … was that a defining moment for you?
      Tony: Well, I've become a pacifist. I think that war is … the lowest form of human behavior. I just think that … I know it's way ahead of (it's) time but I have … always believed (in) the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know that someday everybody's gonna wake up and say "What are we doing?"

    • Tony (speaking of Johnny Mercer and others): In those days, it was economically feasible for them to do two or three Broadway shows a year. Cole Porter tried it and … so two of them would be pretty good and one would be a smash. But out of those shows would come these beautiful songs that were written about the book, not just a hit record that people might like someday and all that. They didn't think that way. You had Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, Larry Hart. You know, beautiful, beautiful composers that wrote from the heart and these songs are gonna live, I'm absolutely positive that 25 or 50 years from now, this will be our classical music that comes from the United States.

    • Tony: Thank God for great jazz artists …They have a way of … it's strictly American, they have away of improvising on a nightly basis, and it feels brand-new every night. It's a different … turn of phrases and different kind of syncopations, and the whole atmosphere in each place wherever you might play. And you … it really feels like the first time you're doing the song. And that separates the men from the boys.

    • Elvis (recalling a visit by Tony): You came around for a glass of champagne before we went to supper and we had a great evening. And the next day our building was abuzz. "Tony Bennett was in the house!" … the gentlemen that look after the door, the gentlemen that look after the heating pipes, we had new respect. Neighbors, neighbors who frequently had suspected us of roasting goats in the living room, strange ritual sacrifices, suddenly wanted to smile at us.

    • Elvis: If people are walking by and they happen to see you when you're painting, do they engage you in conversation?
      Tony: No, I wear a Groucho Marx mask.

    • Tony: I sing to the whole family, I'm anti-demographics.

    • Elvis: It's part of the process of music and perhaps of art that the revolutionary figures of one era are known through reduction and even through caricature by subsequent generations. For example, it seems to me absolutely incredible that people today don't fully appreciate the artistry of Bing Crosby. This was a man who pioneered the intimate persuasion of the voice addressing the microphone. And to whom every subsequent singer is indebted whether they realize it, acknowledge it or even abuse it.
      Tony: Yeah, well, he taught everybody, he taught us all how to make a living. And he was a magnificent singer. But he really created the art of intimate singing with the microphone. In fact, a lot of people don't know it, but he was the #1 box office for seven years in movies. He won two Oscars and he had one great film after another. And, he was a natural … he taught Sinatra, he taught Billie Holliday. He taught us all how to sing in an intimate way. The students of the United States should realize that if they don't go back, they can't go forward. When you study the past … Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Sinatra was 10 years my elder. They were masters and you learn from them, and then you learn what to do because it worked. What they did worked.

    • Tony: There's a lot going on, but … there's too many drums today. And everybody's screeching too much, they're not singin'. They're all screaming. I mean, what are they screaming about?

  • NOTES (2)

    • In addition to being a well known, contralto voiced Grammy Award-winning jazz musician, Diana Krall is also Elvis Costello's third wife. She and Tony Bennett did a 20-city tour together in 2000.

    • This Week's Guest Musicians

      Bill Charlap (Piano)
      Diana Krall (Piano, Vocal)
      Tony Garnier (Upright Bass)