Tony Bennett and Diana Krall aren’t just two of the most popular singers in modern jazz, or even just two of the foremost exponents of the Great American Songbook. They’re also friends, something that becomes immediately obvious once the two get on the phone with each other.
“Hey, Tony, how are you?” says Krall as she comes on the line.
“I’m okay, how’re you doin’?” replies Bennett.
“And how’s your family?”
“Good, everybody’s good. Last week of school, you know? I’m looking forward to seeing you, Tony.”
“Yeah, same here.”
Where they’ll be seeing each other is the Rexall Centre at York University in Toronto, where they’ll be splitting the bill at the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival on Saturday. In advance of the performance, the two agreed to a joint interview with The Globe and Mail.
To be honest, though, the term “interview” may be overstating it, as it didn’t take much in the way of questions to get these two talking about music, their favourite artists, and each other.
Let’s start with a simple question: Have you guys ever shared a bill like this before?
Bennett: Well, we have, haven’t we?
Krall: Yeah, we did a whole tour together in, was it 2000? That was one of the highlights of my life.
Bennett: Thanks. Yeah, we had a great time.
Krall: We had an amazing time, one of the most important times of my life, where every night I got to see Tony Bennett, and hang with you. It was just a dream come true.
Bennett: I love the fact that we did the, on my 80th birthday, when we did the show [Tony Bennett: An American Classic], and we opened the show, you and I, with The Best Is Yet to Come. And it ended up that year that it won several Emmys.
Krall: That was such an incredible show. I loved being part of that. And I was pregnant with my kids when we did that, so I’ll always have that happy memory, too. [laughs]
Each of you is playing the Montreal Jazz Festival, as well. Will you catch each other there?
Bennett: I’m playing in Montreal the night before the concert in Toronto.
Krall: That’s July 1st, right? I’m playing 26th, 27th and 28th. So I’ll miss you there, unfortunately. I’ll never forget that press conference you did there years back. That was like a master class, you answered everything so amazingly.
Bennett: Well, thank you. But the Montreal Jazz Festival – I’ve played other jazz festivals, and it’s really my favourite of all the jazz festivals in the world. You’re treated so well in Montreal. I’ve always had nothing but a wonderful time there,
Krall: That André Ménard [the festival’s artistic director], he’s really amazing. My first gig at the Montreal Jazz Festival was a tribute to Nat Cole, and it was a big risk for him to take. And he gave me a whole week to work it out, which was extremely generous, and it turned into a great thing for me. So he’s also giving me another opportunity, which is a big challenge, because I’m doing these shows solo – no band, just me and the piano. So say a little prayer for me! [laughs]
Bennett: I love that your big influence was Nat Cole. Nat Cole was a friend of mine. He was so magnificent. People still don’t eulogize him enough. He actually built Capitol Records. Every time he made a recording, it went to No. 1 on the charts, and he had so many hit records it was unbelievable. He was such a great musician.
Krall: We were just listening to him yesterday, the record he did with George Shearing.
Bennett: Oh, I love that one.
Krall: I love every record Nat Cole did. He was like Louis Armstrong – it didn’t matter what song Nat sang or played, there was always magic in it. Even if he was doing some silly novelty song, it still sounded like magic.
Bennett: I know what you’re saying. You remember that song, [sings] ‘I realize now, I treated you so unkind.’ You know that one? [ I Realize Now –ed.]
Krall: Sing to me! [laughs] Even if I do know it, I’ll say no. I want to hear you sing more! Sing me a few more lines!
Bennett: He was such a gentleman. It was so tragic that when he had his own television show, because of being an African American and the bigotry during that time, he couldn’t get a sponsor. And here he had Nelson Riddle and he had guest stars like Ella Fitzgerald, and all these great artists. It was a magnificent television show, and yet he couldn’t get a sponsor. They were all afraid.
Krall: I remember he had Jazz at the Philharmonic on, with Flip Phillips and Oscar Peterson, and he would sit at the piano and play Paper Moon. He was a great jazz musician as well as a very different kind of singer. He just was very complex – two different artists, almost, as a singer and a piano player.
Bennett: That’s right. He was a master.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Tony Bennett and Diana Krall perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Rexall Centre in Toronto.