Tony Bennett leaves his heart (briefly) in Tel Aviv

At 88, singer still commands an audience, as he did Sunday night at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium with his powerful vocals.

Tony Bennett in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: ORIT PNINI)
Tony Bennett in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: ORIT PNINI)
Unbelievable, incredible, wow! Those were just three words I heard from the audience as Tony Bennett wowed the packed audience at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv on Sunday night with an awe-inspiring 90-minute performance.
Making it hard to believe that he is 88 years old, Bennett said “Shalom” to the audience at the start of his first-ever appearance in Israel, and then apparently effortlessly sailed through 25 songs, did three encores and received repeated standing ovations from fans who ranged from teens to old-timers.
He still has the raspy, crisp voice which made him famous and defying his age, he even danced a few jigs in between singing some of his most popular songs: “I Got Rhythm,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” and of course, his signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
It was remarkable to hear Bennett reach the same octaves he did half a century ago in Las Vegas as he waltzed through “San Francisco,” much to the audience’s delight.
I was sitting in a row of journalists, most of whom videoed the song on their smart phones.
“That really was very exciting,” said a visibly moved television presenter Guy Pines, who sat next to me.
“I’ve been singing for 50 years,” Bennett told the audience, and then quipped: “The truth is it’s more like 60 years.”
After a short medley by his marvelous Quartet band comprising mostly elderly musicians, Bennett was introduced on stage by a recorded voice of Frank Sinatra calling him “the greatest singer in the world today.”
As he sang the words of the Sinatra song, “Once upon a time, the world was sweeter than we knew,” he conjured up a romantic era of the 20th century that has long gone, and then blasted out as if to bring home the point: “But somehow once upon a time never comes again.”
“I’m old fashioned. I love the moonlight, I love the old-fashioned things,” he sang, in his dapper suit and tie, looking as handsome and cool as ever.
He dedicated “The Good Life” to Lady Gaga, a night after making a surprise guest appearance during her dazzling show at Park Hayarkon.
And he urged the audience to go out and buy their newly released joint album.
“She needs the money,” he laughed.
Before doing a remarkable rendition of the Gershwins’ 1932 song, “Who Cares?”, he called it “the most contemporary song, right now it’s right what’s happening.”
“Let it rain and thunder, let a million firms go under,” he crooned. “I am not concerned with stocks and bonds that I’ve been burned with. I love you and you love me and that’s how it will always be.”
Bennett dedicated another song to a famous late comedian.
“I really love this song, which sold a lot of records,” he recollected. “The composer lived in Switzerland, and he wrote me a letter and he said, ‘Dear Tony, thank you so much for resurrecting my song and making it famous all over again. And I couldn’t believe the signature. It was signed, ‘Mr. Charlie Chaplin.’ And then he did a wonderful rendition of “Smile,” receiving warm applause as he crooned those inspirational lyrics, “Smile, what’s the use of crying. You’ll find that life that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.”
While he is not Jewish, Bennett’s 40-year-old singer daughter Antonia converted to Judaism and visited Israel from Los Angeles last year with her Israeli-born husband, Ronen Helmann. Bennett was accompanied to Israel by a large entourage that included his 54-year-old wife, Susan Crow.
After the show, I accompanied Jerusalem Post writer Pamela Peled backstage to meet him, photograph him and have a brief chat.
He emerged from the stage smiling, showing no signs of fatigue, and engaged in charming conversation with a few fans ranging in age from a young boy to some of his contemporaries.
Asked by Peled for his impressions of his first visit to Israel, Bennett said: “I love it. The audience is so beautiful. Everybody’s so friendly. It’s my first time here, and they treated me a like an old-timer. Couldn’t be better.”