Tony Bennett's Humanity
Manager Danny Bennett sings his famous father's praises.
Paul Sutherland: You’ve been incredibly supportive of your dad. How do you see your role in his career?
Danny Bennett: I’ve been managing him now for over 32 years. You know, I grew up in the business, very passionate about the arts. My mom is an artist and we were surrounded by music all the time. The great Jazz musicians used to jam in our basement—Basie and Ellington and Stan Getts—and we were just part of all that. So having watched it, looking back now feels like a Forrest Gump kind of thing, being in very strange but wonderful situations that I never took for granted. Through the years, music was always the topic of conversation around the dinner table.
PS: And politics?
DB: Yes, politics were a big deal. Tony’s very much a liberal, a social advocate, always has been. He marched with Martin Luther King in 1965, at Selma. Actually, Harry Belafonte was talking to me recently and he was saying you don’t understand what Tony did for us in terms of opening up the movement to the middle class and middle America when it was just not done. He said that Tony never talks about it and that he doesn’t get enough credit. But Tony feels that’s what you are supposed to do. You’re not supposed to get medals; you’re not supposed to brag about that kind of thing. Stevie Wonder once said to me, “Oh my god! You know, in our household when we were growing up, [Tony] meant so much.” I was just so proud of that.
PS: Tony seems to be able to not offend people.
DB: He offends people! But it’s really interesting because it comes from the heart. He’s got no agenda other than being for humanity. So how do you argue with a humanist? Tony’s a person of the street; he won’t have an entourage, thinks it distracts from the objective of keeping focused. He never loses sight of the material world and has complete perspective on it, which is something that my brother and I grew up with, too. So it makes it easy to work together. Our relationship is very much a working relationship of mutual respect. I have a business sense, so my objective is one of the dragon slayer: Knock down those obstacles that that impinge and impede the artistic process. Lots of artists just get so hung up on things like reading reviews.
PS: There’s a book about how business works at the speed of trust, so when you have that authentic relationship with somebody, things can move a lot faster.
DB: Well, I’m in his head and he’s in mine. But he doesn’t necessarily have to understand what I’m doing. Once a month he calls me up and thanks me because he never has to talk to another record executive again. It’s just distracting for him.
PS: Does he have any kind of spiritual practice? Does he meditate?
DB: No. For him it’s art that keeps him in the moment. Tony has an Eastern sensibility, naturally. He doesn’t study, it’s just his natural way. It’s the Judeo-Christian, Western way to separate ourselves from nature, and he doesn’t think or feel like that.
PS: How did your parents raise you? What was the home life like?
DB: I was really very focused. My brother and I, we got into music very early because of the Beatles. We would dance together, and we rehearsed, and we did our own thing. I think that discipline and passion helped develop that sense, you know. My mom was a painter and a sculptor and she did bronze welding in her studio. Our family philosophy is if you have to get something done, you just do it. We’re from Ohio and if a roof needed a shingle, we just went and did it, including my great grandmother. Age didn’t make a difference.
PS: Does age make a difference anymore in the world?
DB: I think we limit ourselves with regard to music, whereas you would never tell a ten year old not to look at a Van Gogh. You want to expose kids to all of those things—take them to the opera, you want them to know Tony, to know the Beatles. Unfortunately, the commercial side of our music industry has been such that they make divisions. Hating those notions and demographics, one day in the ‘90s, Tony came into the room and said, “Yeah, I was watching MTV. I think that could do that.” And then just kind of walked out. We did MTV Unplugged twenty years ago.
PS: People go to a movie that’s supposed to change their consciousness and they go home afterward and say, yeah I‘m smarter for having seen that, but then they don’t do anything to modify their behavior. How do we get people engaged, get them out of their complacency?
DB: I think it’s by example. That’s what’s great about Tony: He doesn’t preach.
Paul Sutherland's column, "The Heart of Money" appears regularly in Spirutality & Health.