The Ravinia box office opened this week. Get your Tony tickets now.
The sparkling summer evenings when Tony Bennett performs at Ravinia have become their own kind of solstice—there is a before, during and after. We spoke with the master of the American Songbook in advance of this year’s visit. Tickets $126-$146
You’ve played Ravinia 40 times over 45 years. Do any of the evenings stand out in your memory?
I love Ravinia...the audiences, the venue, all the great people behind the scenes. It's like coming home each time. It is all about family. That is important to me. Many generations can come out for an evening together, maybe have a picnic on the lawn and hear the greatest songs ever written. The New York Times once wrote that I “didn't just bridge the generation gap, I demolished it!” That says it all. But two magnificent nights in 2015 are unforgettable! My dear friend the brilliant Lady Gaga and I came on our Cheek To Cheek Tour. I'm told It was the fastest sellout in Festival history.
You have received many, many accolades in your career, including 19 Grammys; do any of them have extra special meaning for you?
One of the most recent, receiving the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in November 2017, was especially meaningful and one of the greatest thrills of my career. This past March the Library of Congress again honored me. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was entered into the National Recording Registry as “an aural treasure worthy of preservation.” I will always be grateful to my dear friend and longtime pianist, the great Ralph Sharon, for finding that song.
How do you pick the set you'll do at Ravinia?
My song lists have one requirement…The Great American Songbook. There are some tunes that audiences expect to hear, like “San Francisco,” but I don't have any particular pattern. I like to experiment when I am onstage—I call it moving the furniture around. It may be the same tune, but a different tempo. Each night is different...the energy...the audience. My dear friend Frank Sinatra once told me, “Just stay with the best music.” That is what I've been doing all my life.
You’ve had a long career. Any tips for other singers out there on staying in good health and voice?
I always tell young artists to get a good, well-rounded education first. My wife, Susan, and I created the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in my hometown Astoria, Queens, 20 years ago. It’s the flagship school for Exploring The Arts, which provides arts education assistance to deserving students in 45 schools here in New York and now LA. Eat healthy, exercise every day, don't abuse your body, stay focused. Life is a gift.
When you think about Chicago, what comes to mind most of all?
My next concert! As a visual artist I love spending time at the Art Institute whenever possible. Your magnificent skyline and Lake Michigan are great for sketching. When I was just starting my career I spent a lot of time in Chicago in the '50's. There was this legendary nightclub, the Chez Paree. It was the place to be. I was on the bill with the great Sophie Tucker. She was the star, but I was also pulling in crowds and we both wanted top billing. Our managers came up with this crazy idea. Sophie Tucker's name would be on one side of the marquee and mine on the other. Then we would each enter from a different side of the street. She never saw the other side of that marquee!
Photography by: Mark Seliger