Friday, January 05, 2007

By popular request I will recount the Tony Bennett story. I am always surprised who reads this blog, but I am fairly sure he does not. This is a better story "live" when I can do the hand gestures and Tony poses, but you will have to imagine that.

Roger Vorst used to be head of APA New York and the personal agent responsible for Tony Bennett before he retired when Tony passed away. (Okay, Roger just retired... he got bored waiting for Tony to croak). During this time I am represented by APA Los Angeles. Roger thought it would be a great for me to be Tony's permanente opening act. I think CAA made a fortune on that idea in the 80's by calling it "packaging".

I was hired to open for Tony at Caesar’s in Atlantic City for a couple of days, so Tony could see my act, get to know me and okay this package. It seemed like a done deal. Roger came to my dressing room before the first show and waxed eloquent about how perfect our two acts would fit together. This was a "dream team", and "great for the Agency". He stayed in my dressing room until it was time for me to go on stage.

The Caesar’s gig ended. I never met Tony Bennett, never heard from Roger Vorst, and was never asked to perform with him again. It had gone very well, I thought. The audience he drew in the Casino was certainly one that I was able to entertain.

Five years later I am in New York with a new personal manager. We walk into Roger Vorst's office for a visit; I was still represented by APA. After the pleasantries Roger says, "Well, we were certainly upset that the Tony Bennett thing didn't work out. We should have warned you."
"Warned me?"
"Yeah, how were you to know that would offend him."
"What would offend him?"
"We try to be so careful, and then something like this happens, well it just broke our hearts, because we thought the two of you were going to make a perfect team."

This vague conversation goes on for sometime and it becomes obvious that I have offended Mr. Bennett in some way unknown to me. I don't see how I could have offended him since I never even met the man.

Here is what I was told. Sounds weird, but the whole thing was "a couple of taco's short of a combination plate."

Tony hates bananas. It has something to do with being called "banana nose" in his youth. His real name is Bennidetto and he has always had a weird nose. (Didn't want it fixed because he thought it would change his sound) Instead of Tony Bennidetto they would call him Tony "Banana Nose". Rival singers used to send bananas backstage in his early days just to screw with his head.

Okay, because of his banana phobia he is on the fence about monkeys. Well Darwin was in my show when we did Ceasar's. Tony evidently came out front with Roger to watch my act that first night.

Five years later Roger is recounting, "I think he was okay with the monkey, but when you pulled out the banana, he walked away. I knew it was all over."
"Roger, I don't use a banana in that act, or any act."
"Well, you did that night."
"No, I didn't. I never have. Banana is a "B" word and I have avoided all banana references because of that."
Roger was insistent that I had used a banana in the act, as if he remembered my act better than me. For whatever reason, I didn't get the opening act job because Tony hates bananas.

That night Roger and his assistant came to the club I was working. I did the same Darwin the Monkey act I had done at Caesar’s. After the show he said, "I'm glad to see you cut the banana bit."
As you were,


the other one said...

The absent banana bit brought back memories of bewilderment by Bennett's bombastic behavior.

Lame, but I tried.

Usher Bob said...

Truly weird. His loss.

Anonymous said...

Jay, Enjoyed the Tony Bennett story very much. I don't know if you remember me, but I'm a vent and my Mom and I came to see you perform with Tony Bennett at Caesar's that weekend in the 80's. Infact you invited us up to your dressing room and we chatted there for a little while. What my Mom and I really remember is being guided backstage and on the way to your dressing room we passed Tony. He kind of gave us this look like..."Hey how come your not here to see me". That may have pissed him off or that Banana Daiquiri I was carrying through the wings. LOL. Just kidding about the Daiquiri. All the Best, Greg Pakarklis

FiftyNinth said...

How do you think Tony Bennett would like to receive a gift basket of 100 bananas like you sent to Letterman? (That's not a monkey joke!)
Your bananaphobic company manager

the other one said...'re evil!

I love it!

raspyni said...

Jay that is too funny! We ended up doing that gig for a few years when we were told some vent with a banana in his show "didn't work out". I never even connected that to you cause I know darn well you don't use a banana in your act. Almost 20 years later I am able to close a loop in my brain.

BTW, you didn't miss too much -- they weren't the wildest crowds in the world. But Dan and I always enjoyed saying that Tony attracted audiences with blue hair: some from dye and some from old age. How many artists have such cross-generational draw?

Looking forward to your tour. Hope to meet up along the road.

Barry Friedman
Raspyni Brothers