Tony Bennett, who celebrates his 80th birthday on August 3rd 2006, is one of the best friends the Great American Songbook has ever had. For over 50 years, he's interpreted the works of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin, among others, with a unique imagination and passion that has endeared him to millions of fans the world over.
As a young man, Anthony Benedetto did everything from singing waiter to performing with the American Forces Network orchestra. In 1949, he got his first break when singer Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. She also invited comedian Bob Hope to the show. Hope was so impressed with Tony's performance that he took him under his wing and advised him to shorten his name from Anthony Benedetto to Tony Bennett. A demo was cut, which soon found its way to Mitch Miller at Columbia Records, who signed Tony to the label.
Frank Sinatra was just leaving Columbia due to 'creative differences' with Mitch Miller, and Tony thought that they were looking for another Sinatra. He was quickly advised to stop imitating Frank and develop a style of his own.
Tony performed commercial pop tunes such as Blue Velvet, Rags to Riches and Stranger in Paradise on record and at sold-out concerts to screaming teenage fans. His then pianist and musical director, Ralph Sharon, saw the short shelf-life of such bubblegum material and urged Tony to record a jazz album of more lasting power.
Tony's 1957 album, Beat of My Heart, changed his sound forever. Accompanied by some of the top drummers and percussionists in jazz - Art Blakey, Jo Jones, Candido, and Chico Hamilton - and other high-profile musicians like Herbie Mann, Milt Hinton and Nat Adderley, the ambitious concept-album was a hit.