802 Bookshelf: The Good Life

by Tony Bennett, with Will Friedwald. Pocket Books, 1998, 312 pages, $25 hardcover

Volume C, No. 4April, 2000

Bill Crow

Tony Bennett has aptly named this book of memoirs with the title of one of his big hits in the 1960s. His good life in music has included a recording career that began in 1947, took off in the fifties, and has been going strong ever since. His recordings and personal appearances in clubs and concert halls have established him at the age of 73 in the front rank of popular singers, even in an era that focuses primarily on underripe juvenile stars. Bennett has managed to appeal to a broad audience while following his own personal growth in music, collaborating with musicians whose individuality appealed to him and choosing his material from the cream of American songwriters.

With Friedwald’s assistance, he tells his life story simply and directly, starting with his grandparents’ immigration from Italy in the early 1900s. The family name was Benedetto and Tony’s full name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto. He gives a detailed and interesting family history.

Tony tells anecdotes about his early interest in music, his youthful adventures in the pre-war entertainment world, while in combat in Germany near the end of the war, and during his assignment to the 255th Regiment band after V-E Day, where he met bassist Red Mitchell, trombonist George Masso and composer Jack Elliott, among others.

The story of his efforts to create a singing career in New York after his discharge from the service is fascinating, including the early help he received from an underworld-connected manager who was able to place him in jobs where his talent could be noticed. He took the stage name Joe Bari at the beginning of his career, but when he was hired to do a show with Bob Hope at the Paramount, Hope didn’t like the name. Since he felt that Anthony Benedetto was too long a name for the marquee, he shortened it to Tony Bennett.

The singer’s description of his experiences in the recording industry give good insights into the way popular music was marketed in the 1950s and ’60s. Bennett’s battles with various record executives taught him the business and helped him develop his own way of presenting his music on albums. The popularity of some of his major hits gave him the leverage to do things his own way. He was still winning awards for his work as the 1990s ended, enjoying a continuing popularity that makes it possible for him to continue to live the good life – which includes singing, enjoying his family and friends, and pursuing his second love, painting, which has occupied him for most of his life. A book of his paintings has been published and eight examples of his work are reproduced in this volume, along with photos from childhood, the army and various periods throughout his career.