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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 1, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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[captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with tony bennett, 15-time grammy winner is talking about "duets." the disk is called "duets ii." he celebrated his 85th birthday with an arts fundraiser that including president clinton. i'm glad you joined us, tony bennett, coming up right now. >> every community has martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place to gather with your community. make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports
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tavis smiley. nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to empowerment. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: it isals such an honor and delight to be in the company of tony bennett. his influence on music for generations to come and also one of the most kind, humble and giving people i have had the pleasure to befriend. he has a collection of duets
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with some of the biggest names in the business. some of the making of "duets ii." ♪ don't get around much anymore ♪ ♪ ain't it a thrill i love you still it had to be you wonderful you it had to be you
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♪ tavis: we recently had on this program just days ago sonny rollins. honored later this year and i saw him in concert here in l.a. and he is 81. you are now 85. happy birthday. you guys doing this into your 80's. you are killing me. and you sound just as good as ever. >> we love what we are doing. sonny has been that way. i just love the fact that i'm able to perform and trying to make people feel good and i feel good. tavis: i should tell you, speaking of your birthday, i have framed on my wall, the personal invitation from you to be at your 85th birthday. i was in china doing a special for pbs. >> i saw it. tavis: the invite is on my wall. i'm bragging that i was invited.
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you guys raised a bunch of money that night for the foundation. >> couple million dollars. it was the best night i ever had in the whole entertainment world i lived in. the metropolitan opera in this great hall, which is the most beautiful concert hall in the world and i was apprehensive and i said, i don't know if this is going to work. [laughter] >> and it was wonderful. president clinton came out and announced me and made everybody comfortable right away and then we hit, it was really the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. tavis: that you performed at the met before that night? >> one quick song and off, one benefit, 15 years ago. but this was a full performance and it was a great experience. tavis: tony bennett does the
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met. speaking of the foundation, how is the school going? i have been to the performing arts school. >> it's going so well. my wife and i started so well and named it after frank sinatra, school of the arts. and it's a public school. and from that, it's built up over the last six or seven years into 14 schools in manhattan. all public schools and we give them art programs. and the average of the students, 99% graduate, no dropouts. and 97% go to college. tavis: i said to tons of friends of mine, the how milty is you raise money for kids to attend this art school so they can go on to college and perfect their craft and all the people you
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could have named it after, starting with yourself, frank sinatra, great artist, but he loved your voice. but you don't name it after yourself but after frank sinatra. >> i learned that from lewis armstrong and taught all the great music ands to play. he was the inspiration. and i was a fan of his as a young boy and i will never forget that he you'll guised the white trumpet player and he always just would give him the endorsement, big spider, and even at that time, i said that's the right thing to do. why keep talking about yourself? talk about your inspirations or the people that inspired you. and that's why sinatra, was 12 years older than i was. gnat cole, dean martin -- nat
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cole and dean martin, i learned a lot. >> sonny rollins said how much time he puts into practicing every day. you still practice? >> absolutely. tavis: you still do? >> it's not a matter of practice, you pray to get better. it's a matter of keep learning, to keep studying and keep -- you are only as good as your next show. the show that you did is gone. the next show and you have to be safe. can't just hand it in and say so what, you have to care about it. tavis: i think i said this before, but again it moves me every time i see you in performance, after every song, you take the microphone and put it under your arm and applaud the audience. where did that come from?
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how did you start that? >> being 85, i caught the last end of vaudeville and i watched jack benny and george burns and the great masters that made it look effortless and easy and in those days, when rosemarry clooney and i first started, we started selling records and they said son, you are doing ok but will take nine years before you become a consummate performer and sure enough, they were accurate, because the public had become my teachers. from thinking in a vaudeville way rather than a corporate way. i just think of the audience. richard rodgers told me during a commercial, i only met him once
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and i was just starting out and he said, tony, if the audience likes it, go to sleep on that. don't listen to anybody else. and it was a good lesson, you know. you have to -- you make the audience your friends, not an enemy when you are going on that stage. no such thing as a cold audience, only a cold performer. tavis: wow! i love the fact that you feel that way, you applaud them after every song. it's amazing to see. it takes my breath away every time i see that. you mentioned clooney and you back in the day when you started having those couple million-selling records. i'm sure "duets will be the same." what do you make the fact that they are at the top of the list of the top-selling records of your whole career? >> they are. it's on the way. and i heard a rumor that in a
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couple of days it's very possible it's going to go to number one. tavis: i heard that same rumor. i could almost verify that same rumor. what do you make of the fact that these two records have done so well? >> well, you know, what i like is as wonderful as the first one was, what i like about these new artists that came about six years later is they are all going to school now. lady gaga is from n.y.u. and others are going to berkley college in boston and juliard and being taught how to prepare, how to get ready and instead of waiting those nine years, they are walking in real professionals. i like that.
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tavis: let me tease you with some of the people who appeared on "duets ii." bocelli, bub are ch le, sheryl crow, aretha franklin, josh growing begin, lady gaga, k.d. lang, nelson, underwood, winehouse and others. a lot of talk about winehouse. word is this was her last recording. dead at 27. and word is this was her last recording. talk to me about amy winehouse. >> i met her about a year before we recorded with her father and he is quite a jazz singer himself. and in europe, he's huge.
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the public loved her and they were rooting for her so much. and i got a big kick out of them because i was at albert hall for two nights, big concert hall and they would come every night and it was sold out and we became close friends. and her dream was to record with me. so i chose that johnny green song that all musicians consider their national anthem "body and soul," which went to number one on billboard and inspired all the jazz artists of the world to this day, it's their favorite song "body and soul" and she sang it and i tell you. she was a great jazz singer, authentic jazz singer. she heard it all and knew what to do.
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little apprehensive when she was recording with me as to getting comfortable in recording at the abby studios in britain and i said i may be wrong, but i think you are influenced by dana washington, that little sentence, i was trying to get her comfortable, she changed like that. she said that's my idol. she just got comfortable and sang and used the dana washington infleck shons. tavis: what made you say that? >> she was a good friend of mine through the years and sure enough, the record came out beautiful. tavis: how did you in your life and career -- because you guys
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were partying hard back in those days, how did you avoid being on that track where you ruined your instrument, your voice, and ruined your physical specimen and end up being dead before 85? how did you avoid all of that? >> ralph sharon, who lives in denver now, and we both were talking about. we were pretty naughty and it was that period of time when martin luther king was assassinated and the kennedys and our country like what was happening, and we got a little naughty. i started taking a little cocaine there and i thought i was doing great, but realistically, you know, i was hiding, you know doing something illegal and all that. i never felt comfortable about it.
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but i know this fellow jack rollins who said he used to handle lenny bruce and i said i know him. what do you think of him? he said he sinned against his talent. tavis: he sinned against his talent? >> and that changed my life. i stopped everything. i had no withdrawal. and i realized i was doing wrong. i thought i was singing good, and i wasn't. and it feels so good now not to get hooked on anything except health. tavis: and the music. >> and the music. just having a good normal life and what a blessing that is. what a blessing it is to be alive. tavis: you had known amy winehouse -- only known her for a year, but i wonder whether or not you felt it wasn't your
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place, was it not appropriate, did it not come up, did you have any conversation at that time about her struggles? >> that's the little regret that i had because we recorded in britain and we had to take off and sing with queen latifa. i got along good with her father and as it is now from this program and the few days that i'll be in britain, they are still celebrating my birthday -- tavis: that's a good thing. >> i will be a -- at the paladium and carry grant said you have to play there. and the bbc is going to
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teleadvise it. and i was going to have amy winehouse. i wanted to tell her to stop. that if she doesn't stop, she'll do herself in. and it was just bad timing on my part because i was traveling and i couldn't tell her about that. tavis: one of the best tracks on this cd. speaking of great tracks, and i want to come back to her because you were at the top of your game and you get in trouble when you make these observations, aretha franklin was the greatest woman to ever sing. i'm her biggest fan. she does it well. she's amazing and when you think of franklin and bennett together. when i got the cd, i went right to that track. i wanted to hear what you
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sounded like together. tell me when the two of you get together on a song? >> the greatest moment that i ever experienced was the night at the metropolitan opera and did the big benefit for the met and surprisingly, she said i would like to do it with you. i said, great, let's do it. and i wanted her to do "lost in the stars" she said i want to do "how do you keep the music playing" with bergman and michelle. and she came out and sang it, and boy, it tore the opera house apart. it was wonderful. tavis: it's a great project. for these projects, how do you figure out who the artists are?
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i know aretha walked up to you and said i want to do this with you. but how do you pick the artists and the tracks you want them to sing? >> my son danny came up with "duets. this is the second album. but this is it. we did two albums and they ended up -- when we did a television special, it won seven emmies in one night. but this is the second one and that's it. from here, we just do something different. tavis: how can you say that's it when there are so many artists who would love to do stuff with tony bennett? >> well, you know, you have to know -- that's one of the things
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i learned like about vaudeville, you can't stay on the stage too long. tavis: you have to know when to say when. [laughter] tavis: i suspect after two projects if this were going to be and obviously it will be the defining part of you where "duets" is concerned, you are ok with it. >> we went with andrea bocelli and amy winehouse in london and abby road and laura jones and natalie cole was in los angeles and the queen did a beautiful job "who can i turn to," and she did that out there.
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and we went to nashville and lady gaga, so it was an international experience. in other words, instead of the artists come to me, we went out to them and made them comfortable where they're comfortable. tavis: i'm glad you said that. i would assume that for a lot of folks talented they might be, there has to be a level of intimidation when you step into the studio with tony bennett. >> these artists who are so successful and they got it from school, they went to school and had good teachers that taught them how to prepare and show up properly and know what you are doing and all that and that's the difference. this new group is going to be around a long time because it wasn't a short cut, they just had wonderful teachers that showed them what to expect and
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what's going to happen if they go into the entertainment world. tavis: did you have the opportunity to do that in school yourself or was being on the road your school? >> i was in france and germany in the second world war. when i came out, i joined under the g.i. bill of rights, i joined the american theater wing. and it was called in chicago, the good war. they gave us the best teachers, i mean, the best teachers in acting and method acting and others taught us how to keep our voice going through the years with a good technique and spear, right on 52nd street, a wonderful coach and she told me,
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don't imitate another singer, because you will be one of the chorus. imitate muse ands and -- music ands and she would point out, billey holliday. so i would chose art tate umh because he was -- tatum, because he was different. and he would make a story out of a pop song. and i took that technique and stan getz had that sound on the sacks and i got my style that -- sax and i got my style that way. tavis: what's next for you? this is it for this, but since you are obviously showing no signs of retiring --
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>> nope. tavis: you said that really, really quick, nope. >> i like being alive. i enjoy it very much. i paint every day and i'm going to continue doing that. tavis: everything you do, you do well, including the attire. >> you are the most wonderful interviewer. tavis: you are kind. i'm honored to have tony bennett every now and again. love having you on this program. he can co-hose any day he wants to. new project from tony bennett is called "duets ii" and it is a great compilation of the beautiful voices on the planet and only tony could gather these voices together. you will love it. mr. bennett, i love you and -- >> thank you very much.
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tavis: that's our show tonight. until then, good night from l.a. and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: dave stewart on the new disk and mick jagger, that's next time. we'll see you then. >> every community has martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or a boulevard, but a place to gather in the community. make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy
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and remove object calls. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more, pbs.
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