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JAZZ REVIEW : Tony Bennett Impeccably Tasteful at Bowl

August 20, 1993|LEONARD FEATHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Throughout a long and diverse set, Tony Bennett showed at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night that, at 67, he's still a formidable pop singer.

He hasn't lost that commanding presence and his choice of material (mostly from the golden age of popular songs) was flawless. Once again, he was tastefully accompanied by pianist Ralph Sharon's trio, with occasional support from the horn sections of the Count Basie orchestra.

Starting at an easy lope with the verse and chorus of "It Had to Be You," he moved through a program that included most of his long-established hits, along with a few from the album dedicated to Frank Sinatra. Perhaps there could have been fewer Las Vegas-type endings (not every song calls for a grandiose finale), but whether the source was Hank Williams ("Cold Cold Heart") or Michel Legrand or Duke Ellington, or an unjustly obscure ballad such as "When Joanna Loved Me," the pieces fell into place.

The perennially reliable Sharon was generously accorded solo spots, notably on "In a Sentimental Mood." Bennett also demonstrated how easily he can swing with just Doug Richeson's bass backing him. In his ability to employ variations on a melody, even in the brief scat interludes, Bennett has always shown a jazz sensitivity marginally greater than Sinatra's.

Shirley Horn's opening set was a surprise. In the past she's had difficulty transmitting her message to a mass audience. But on this occasion, in a set of standards, her voice--like her piano playing and trio accompaniment--came across convincingly.

The Count Basie band played a truncated version of its familiar routine, with crisp ensembles, good solos by leader Frank Foster and others. But there were two time-wasters: tasteless comedy shtick by bassist Cleveland Eaton and a dreary ballad sung by Chris Murrell.

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