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Music

It's good to be Tony Bennett

Orlando Sentinel
Interview: On way to South Florida, @itstonybennett talks about working with @ladygaga.

Tony Bennett takes his anti-aging medicine daily.

His drug of choice does not prevent wrinkles or require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are no prescription costs, but Bennett's not-so-secret remedy comes with side effects, all of them beneficial.

Bennett has found a thirst for knowledge is the best medicine.

"You never stop learning," says Bennett, 89. "It is hard to say this, but it is true. I feel like I am just starting out. I have a lot to learn."

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens, N.Y., on Aug. 3, 1926, Bennett is not slowing down.

He is scheduled to perform Friday, March 11, at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach and Tuesday, March 15, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. "The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern" by Bennett and jazz pianist Bill Charlap was released in September and won a Grammy in February for the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

The award was Bennett's 19th Grammy.

"To this day, I just love what I am doing," Bennett says. "I am sold out all over the world, wherever I play. I have a nice, intimate jazz quartet of wonderful artists who perform with me. It's very inspiring to me to keep going."

One of the first sparks of inspiration inside Bennett came when he was 10. After his father died, his relatives frequently came over to help his mother, and Bennett entertained them by singing and showing them his paintings.

Bennett was energized by the compliments he received.

"To this day and all the days since 10 years old until now, that has been a study of trying to get better and better," he says.

A World War II veteran, Bennett was discovered by comedian Bob Hope while performing in New York in the late 1940s. Hope liked everything about Bennett, except his stage name.

Joe Bari had to go.

"He couldn't believe the way I was singing," Bennett says. "He said, 'You're coming with me,' and he is the first one to put me at the Paramount Theatre in New York, where all the great artists get started. I started that way. He kicked me right into the big time by introducing me as Tony Bennett. It's the first time I heard my name that way."

Bennett's hits started with "Because of You" in 1951. It was followed closely by a cover of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." His signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," was released in 1962, long before his first collaboration with Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

Oh, about her — the lady known as Gaga.

"She is a great student," Bennett says. "She learns very well. She plays great piano. She still doesn't know how good of a singer she is. She is one of the best singers I have ever heard and one of the best performers I have ever met."

Bennett has released two successful albums of duets. From the late Amy Winehouse to Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney to Barbra Streisand, Sting to Bono, some of music's best and brightest have shared vocals with Bennett.

His collaborations with Lady Gaga have resonated the most. The album "Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek" was released in 2014, one year after they performed together at President Barack Obama's inaugural ball.

In all, Bennett has sung for 10 presidents.

"Just to be a good person and to stay that way is the whole premise of what I do," Bennett says. "I try to teach the audience that I love life and I love the audience. They make me feel happy, and when I make them feel happy, I walk away very content."

Bennett is seeking the next step in his learning process. Even after all these years, he says his technique could improve.

A television special is planned for his 90th-birthday bash. Bennett has not thought about what turning 100 will bring.

"I'm going for 110," he says. "I really am. Fortunately, I am very, very healthy and very alive. If it stays that way. … I just stay in top shape."

Besides his success in music, Bennett is an accomplished painter and has written four books. His autobiography, released nearly two decades ago, is called "The Good Life."

It's only getting better.

Tony Bennett will perform 8 p.m. Friday, March 11, at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Tickets start at $36. Call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org. He will also perform Tuesday, March 15 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave, in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $51-$161. Call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.

sruiz@orlandosentinel.com

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