I became friends with the great Tony Bennett in the 60s when I was the house pianist of a 7-piece band at the 1st class Roostertail supper club on the Detroit River. Today it’s a rental events space, but back in the day I loved working in the house band because it was a happy band and we accompanied all the big acts who came through Detroit, including Tony Bennett.
But like some of the other big name acts, Tony brought his own personal pianist to accompany him. That meant that after finishing the set before he came on, I got up, left the piano and went to the small backstage area and we were backstage together every night until he went on to sing. After his set, as he left the stage, I went back to the piano to finish the show.
During this gig, Tony was having a very difficult time-- relationship problems with his lady and often became so upset that he was on the verge of tears just before he went out to peform. I became a sort of cool-out counsellor, supporting him to go out there and sing his heart out.
Many years later, after both he and I had moved to New York, Tony came to Zinno for dinner in the Village where I was playing and at the end of the set, he grinned, jumped up and gave me a big standing ovation. The entire room followed his lead and stood to cheer me. He also went to Bradley’s and his love of jazz has ever informed his own performance & recordings with guys like Bill Evans.
Now in his 90’s, he’s still singing, still swinging and still leaving his heart in San Francisco. He’s a survivor and one of a kind.