In September 2008 I interviewed Tony Bennett before he performed at the University of Central Florida. This was one of my most difficult interviews. Let's face it, what could I ask him that hadn't already been asked and answered before?
Susan Cross: If you had to choose, would you rather be known as a singer who is also a painter or a painter who is also a singer?
Tony Bennett: I have been very fortunate to have been able to do the two things I love the most – sing and paint. I have been doing both all my life and I don’t view them as two separate endeavors with one taking more importance over another. Instead, they are pursuits that enable me to stay in a creative zone all the time – they balance each other in the ying-yang tradition.
Susan Cross: Your paintings cover such a wide range of subjects including musicians, landscapes, still life and self portraits. Do you paint from memory, photographs or while actually looking at your subject?
Tony Bennett: I love the spontaneity of capturing a moment on canvas but there are times when that is not possible so if I discover something that I want to paint and there is not time to work on it on the spot I will take a photograph to use as an inspiration for a painting.
Susan Cross: So many cities are featured in your paintings. Besides New York, do you have a favorite city or region that you find particularly scenic?
Tony Bennett: I paint so many of the cities that I travel to while I am performing -- -but I vacation In the Tuscany region of Italy and love to paint those landscapes.
Susan Cross: Why did you name the Exploring the Arts public high school "Frank Sinatra School of the Arts" rather than using your own name?
Tony Bennett: It was a wonderful way to honor a great performer and a very dear friend.
Susan Cross: Do you plan on opening similar schools in other cities?
Tony Bennett: With my wife Susan, we started Exploring the Arts which supports arts education In the public schools and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, which is a public arts high school is our first endeavor. The permanent building for the school, which was designed by Polshek Partners who are world renowned architects, is the first of what we hope are many such schools.
Susan Cross: How many self portraits do you think you've done over the years?
Tony Bennett: Many.
Susan Cross: It appears in your book that you favor watercolors. Is this your favorite medium?
Tony Bennett: I love watercolors as they are easy to travel with so I can take them on the road with me and I compare them to jazz music which is a spontaneous, in the moment, way of playing. Watercolor is a quick medium and it’s very immediate.
Susan Cross: How much of an impact do you think your CD "Duets" had on a new generation of music lovers?
Tony Bennett: I had a great time performing the songs of my catalog with a host of contemporary artists -- all of whom were very professional and well prepared. It turned out to be the best selling CD of my career!
Susan Cross: Are you flattered by the fact that young artists such as Michael Buble and Diana Krall are performing standards that you originally made famous?
Tony Bennett: I am thrilled that the Great American Songbook has attracted such talented artists and this is the finest music that American has ever created. There was a golden age of songwriting in which these songs were crafted by masters such as Cole Porter, the Gerswhins, Duke Elllington, Harold Arlen and it is a national treasure.
Susan Cross: How does it feel to have received Billboard's Century Award when it is obvious that you are still "Young at Heart?"
Tony Bennett: I received that award during my 80th birthday year which was such a memorable time for me and it’s always nice to be honored but I tend to not dwell on the past too much and always look forward to what is coming next.
Susan Cross: To what degree do you feel that your passion for art, music and family have contributed to your long, happy and productive life?
Tony Bennett: My philosophy is to do what you love in life and you never need to retire.
Susan Cross: What is it about New York that has such a hold on you?
Tony Bennett: There is no city on earth like New York – all the world is here.
Susan Cross: Before you step out on the stage, what thoughts go through your head?
Tony Bennett: I still get butterflies which I take as a good sign – it tells me that I still care about how the show is going to go that night – will the sound be good, will the audience enjoy themselves – it’s about caring.
Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved