On June 9, 1962, Tony Bennett performed at Carnegie Hall in one of the greatest concerts held at that location. I’ll let Tony Bennett tell the story from his autobiography, The Good Life.
When “San Francisco” was peaking in early 19162, I was invited to appear at Carnegie Hall for the first time. Carnegie Hall. had never featured a “pop” singer like myself as a solo performer. To my surprise, Columbia backs me completely. Goddard said, “You’ve got to play Carnegie Hall, and we’d love to make a record out of the concert.”
I wanted everything to be right. I called my old Army buddy Arthur Penn and asked him to help me stage the show. He very graciously agreed even though he’s just directed his Oscar-winning film The Miracle Worker and wasn’t exactly staging shows anymore. He brought in Gene Saks, the famous Broadway director, and together the three of us worked out what would be done at Carnegie Hall. I asked Arthur what songs he thought I should sing, and he said, “Sing whatever you want. All I’m going to do is make sure nothing distracts you. I’m going to make a nice environment on stage.” Under his direction Gene Saks gave the whole theater a truly spiritual look with his elegant, understated lighting. Carnegie Hall never looked better, My dear old friend Arthur really came through for me.
The concert was held on June 9, 1962. Backstage I had a healthy case of the butterflies and reflected on Sinatra’s advice about the jitters. From the moment I hit the state, all the nervousness disappeared, and I know I was gonna nail it. I’m proud to say the concert was an absolute triumph.
My whole family was in the audience that night. I was particularly proud that my mother was there; that made me feel like a million bucks. My Mom couldn’t believe how far I’d come. She was sitting between Mary [his sister] and Tom [Mary’s husband], and as the crowds were cheering for an encore, she kept turning to Mary and asking, “Why don’t they let Anthony go home and rest? He must be exhausted after two and half hours of singing.” She was so precious, she meant everything to me.
Columbia was able to get Tony Bennett at Carnegie Hall released by the end of August. We got the greatest sound on our album, better than any other album I’d recorded. Frank Laico did a terrific job, not only recording the music, but beautifully capturing the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Ralph Sharon, Tony’s pianist and music director, conducted the orchestra and wrote the liner notes for the Tony Bennett at Carnegie Hall.
I have been Tony’s musical director and accompanist for several years, but I have never ever heard in better voice or seen him as confident and relaxed as he was on stage that night.
At curtain time, I gave the downbeat for the opening music, and house lights dimmed. Tony left the wings and made his to center stage amid tremendous applause, and from that moment it was evident to the audience at Carnegie Hall that this would be the greatest night of Tony Bennett’s career. The show got underway and the enthusiasm of the audience grew greater with each song.
It is difficult to pass quickly over any of the songs that Tony sang that night because each one has some special moment–either from Tony, the orchestra, a solo instrumentalist or the reaction of the audience. I will permanently retain a memory of Tony singing “What Good Does It Do” and “One For My Baby” just a few feet away from the benevolently smiling composer of these songs, Harold Arlen, sitting front row center.
Credit too should be given to the Columbia Records engineers, tucked away in a little side room off the stage, for capturing a perfect balance between Tony, the orchestra, and the audience — a difficult technical job brilliantly achieved. They have preserved a completely faithful reproduction of the night when Tony Bennett met his great challenge and came through like the champion he is.