Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Talking Shop: Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett
Frank Sinatra described Tony Bennett as "the best singer in the business"

He was Frank Sinatra's favourite singer, has released more than 100 albums over 50 years, and won 14 Grammy Awards.

US crooner Tony Bennett, now 82, has been a star since the golden age of 1950s pop.

His latest release is a festive album, A Swingin' Christmas, on which he sings a selection of holiday classics with the Count Basie Orchestra.

He talks about Christmas songs, the secrets of a long career and why British fans are unlike those anywhere else in the world.


You released your last Christmas album, Snowfall, in 1968 - why wait so long for another one?

I was so happy with Snowfall, it's a very special album. It was the most complete Christmas album I could ever imagine doing, and it was my favourite.

But after many years, my son Danny, who manages me, came up with the idea of doing this swinging album for parties, if people want an album with a good beat to feel spirited during the holiday season.

What do you think are the best Christmas songs?

The great ones are White Christmas, the Irving Berlin song, and The Christmas Song, which Nat King Cole made very famous.

Tony Bennett at the Grammys 2007
I have a private plane... it is very civilised, compared with what we had to do years ago

And there's a third one, which I found and have on a new album. That is All I Want for Christmas is You [made famous by Mariah Carey]. They're just wonderful.

What is Christmas day like in the Bennett household?

All of my family - children, nieces, nephews, all my relatives - we all get together and have a terrific party. We're very close to one another.

What have you done in the past year that you don't want Santa to find out about?

Actually, I'm very boring, I haven't been naughty at all. I think it's the first year of my life that I haven't! I'm happily married and I feel very content. I haven't done anything scandalous.

Is it right that you decided to be a performer after singing for your family as a child?

Absolutely. We grew up during the depression - I've been singing for quite a while now!

All our relatives would gather every Sunday and make a circle around my brother, my sister and myself and have us be their entertainment. It was wonderful.

They would take out their guitars and mandolins and clap and spirit us to have a fun show. I couldn't wait for the next weekend to see all my relatives again. It was that spirit that created a passion for me to be an entertainer for the rest of my life.

You're now 82 - are you still on the road?

My favourite performer was Frank Sinatra - he was 10 years my elder, he was my master

Every two or three weeks I go out and do an engagement. I have a private plane take me to whatever part of the US we're going to.

It is very civilised, compared with what we had to do years ago. Believe it or not, we did seven shows a day at the Paramount Theatre. Everybody from Sinatra to Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis - we'd have to do seven shows a day.

Seven shows a day? Do you mean seven shows a week?

Seven shows a day. We'd have to wake up at seven o'clock and would do a show at 10:30 in the morning. Then there would be a film - that would be the break. And when the film was over, we'd do another show. That went on until 10:30 in the evening. So things are looking better.

Who are your favourite singers of all time?

Pavarotti was my favourite singer. But my favourite performer was Frank Sinatra. He was 10 years my elder. He was my master, so much so that I've named a school after him in my home town where I grew up, Astoria, in the suburbs of New York City.

How do you stay young?

You don't go out of fashion in Britain - once your fans like you, they like you permanently

Right from the beginning, I've had the pleasure of knowing what I really wanted to do in life. I consider myself a perpetual student of trying to learn as much as I can to perform properly and I love it.

Here I am at 82 and I still adore playing to audiences. And the reaction in Britain is unlike the reaction anywhere else in the world.

Really? Why is that?

You don't go out of fashion in Britain - once your fans like you, they like you permanently and it's a beautiful experience to me.

You played at the Glastonbury Festival 10 years ago - everyone else was covered in mud but you stayed spotless.

Backstage, there was a whole big row of haystacks and I got on those haystacks and avoided all the mud.

I enjoyed Glastonbury. I'm kind of anti-demographic. Some people think parents like a certain kind of music and the children like another - I never went along with that. I play for the whole family.

Tony Bennett was talking to BBC News music reporter Ian Youngs.

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