Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Zen of Bennett: Benedetto’s Way
Bennett’s sessions with Bill Evans represent some of the greatest jazz vocal
recordings ever—period. His track record
with movies has been a bit spottier.
Remember The Oscar from 1966,
with Stephen Boyd and Elke Sommer? The
Academy certainly didn’t. He has had
better luck with documentary filmmakers looking to celebrate his artistry and
longevity. By and large, Unjoo Moon does
exactly that with The Zen of Bennett (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.
is no question Bennett is a survivor. He
has continued to attract new fans in part through the high concept duets he recorded
with younger artists from a variety of genres.
A good part of Zen gives
viewers a behind-the-scenes look at his Duets
II sessions. However, it is not
always a day in the park. Bennett’s
vanity is clearly bruised when John Mayer innocently tells him how much his
parents love his music. Considering how
long he has been around, the crooner should have been delighted Mayer’s
grandparents weren’t the ones to introducing him Bennett’s music.
way of a disclaimer, let’s just say I know a whole lot of musicians and have
heard one or two stories and leave it at that.
Be that as it may or may not be, Moon deserves credit for letting the
pricklier side of Bennett peak through occasionally. Considering how many people with the Bennett
name were involved with the production, she probably produced the most balanced
chart-topping guest stars are a mixed bag, but Michael Bublé probably comes out
looking the best, explaining how has adopted Bennett’s old school approach for
his own recordings. Conversely, it is
difficult to watch the footage of a visibly unstable Amy Winehouse in what
would be her final recording session, paired up with the old master. Even though it features the most sympathetic
and supportive Bennett viewers ever see in the film, its inclusion still feels
Zen captures Bennett springing some
very last minute changes on his musicians, we do not hear very much from them
(and they certainly do not talk to any former sidemen). Tragically, Bill Evans is long gone as well,
but Bennett does speak of their recordings as some of his favorites.
Jazz fans will always appreciate Bennett’s taste
and professionalism, but the celebrity-centric focus of Zen may leave many cold. Nonetheless,
he is still in fine voice and Dion Beebe’s cinematography is appropriately
stylish. Aimed more at newer fans coming
to Bennett via Duets I and II, Zen
is a competent portrait of an artist maintaining his high standards and an
enduring commercial viability through an iron force of will, but it only hints
at what might be hidden beneath his public façade. For diehards rather than casual listeners, Zen of Bennett opens this Wednesday
(10/24) at the IFC Center, with the man himself taking Q&A after the 7:00
Labels: Documentary, Tony Bennett