Tony Bennett in performance
Tony Bennett in performance|Larry Busacca |

Tony Bennett celebrates his art and artistry at Wind Creek Bethlehem

The performance was one of just a handful the nonagenarian pop-music titan is doing this year

Chuck Darrow

Chuck Darrow

Who were the luckiest casino visitors in the state of Pennsylvania Thursday night? It says here it was the couple-thousand folks who convened at the Wind Creek Bethlehem (formerly Sands) for a concert by the national treasure that is Tony Bennett.

Let’s face it: Show business is overstuffed with “superstars” and “icons” and “legends.” But at age 93, Bennett is more of a Wonder of the World.

Thursday evening, he put on a jazz-vocal clinic, serving up page after page of standards from the Great American Song Book. That he apparently did so without the aid of a video monitor displaying the lyrics was alone worthy of slack-jawed admiration (after all, there are plenty of considerably younger singers who rely on such technology). But there was so much more that made the set so special.

It should come as no surprise that Bennett’s voice is no longer the instrument that moved Frank Sinatra to regularly go on the record with his opinion that Bennett was the world’s “greatest singer” (it’s Ol’ Blue Eyes’ taped voice saying just that that served to introduce Bennett last night). But so what?

The passage of time may have applied a light patina of sandpaper to his pipes, and maybe curtailed his range a bit, but it has not diminished his exquisite phrasing, which navigated the often-tricky contours of the arrangements. It has also allowed Bennett to imbue new, sometimes ironic, meaning in the lyrics of such songs as “This Is All I Ask,” with its opening line, “As I approach the prime of my life,” and the late-set crowd-pleaser, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”

And more than ever, Bennett doesn’t sing a lyric as much as he caresses it and wraps it in the vocal equivalent of an old, familiar blanket.

But it was on the more up-tempo material—including “I Got Rhythm,” on which he delivered the words in a scat-like manner—that Bennett soared, vocalizing with energy and a freshness that belied the decades he’s been performing these songs. It was as if you could grab a fistful of the pure joy Bennett was radiating from the Event Center stage.

Having Bennett’s back at every twist and turn was a top-shelf quartet —pianist/music director Lee Musiker, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones — which, we’re sure, boasts more than 200 years of collective experience.

While all four gentlemen are virtuoso players, Jones was the standout. From start to finish, his work was sure-handed and efficient; there was never a wasted hit. And when it was time to swing, Jones ignited pure percussive ecstasy.

A recent review of a Bennett concert in London emphasized the elegiac nature of the performance, with the writer suggesting the show was Bennett’s way of accepting his — and our — inevitable fate. But Thursday night at Wind Creek was just the opposite, an uplifting and inspiring celebration of a one-of-a-kind artist and his one-of-a-kind artistry.

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