Tony Bennett passed away today at 96. A legendary pop singer and jazz crooner, Bennett was an American-music tour de force. His career spanned nearly 80 years, resulting in 100+ albums, 20 Grammy wins, scores of collaborations, and countless memories.
An author’s note: I’m an old soul. My grandmother—and by extension my mother and I—grew up on the ballads of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Mel Tormé. Whereas my friends claimed The Office and Survivor as their personality traits, I claimed Final Fantasy and The Rat Pack as mine.
Tony Bennett lived long enough to listen to Louis Armstrong, perform alongside Sammy Davis, Jr., and tour with Lady Gaga. He was the last bastion of great crooners (sorry, Michael Bublé—I can’t stand you). Despite battling Alzheimer’s in his later years, he lived a long life and left his mark on music and culture. The man will be missed.
To honor his life, I thought it’d be fun to examine his music through the modern lens of video games. Here are some of the greatest jazz standards in gaming that Tony Bennett ever sang:
1. “Anything Goes”
Featured in: Fallout 3 (performed by Cole Porter)
“Anything Goes” was written by famed composer and lyricist Cole Porter. Originally penned for a Broadway show with the same title, “Anything Goes” tells the story of how quickly times—and social norms—change. Once upon a time, a “glimpse of stocking” was considered racy; now, it’s modest. Where writers “once knew better words,” today’s creatives use “four-letter words” to express themselves. Gasp!
You know what’s funny? He wrote this song in 1934. (Stockings?! What are we, the Puritans?) Keke Palmer’s grouch of a baby daddy has got nothing on Mr. Porter.
It might be a relic, but “Anything Goes” remains a mainstay in many a jazz repertoire. The song gained a new following when Bethesda included it in Fallout 3’s Galaxy News Radio. And while Tony Bennett, to my knowledge, has never appeared in a video game, he and Lady Gaga absolutely crushed the above rendition of “Anything Goes” during the duo’s 2014 Cheek to Cheek tour.
2. “Blue Moon”
Featured in: Fallout: New Vegas (performed by Frank Sinatra)
A classic jazz standard, “Blue Moon” has been crooned by all the Mount Rushmore greats. Frank’s got a big band version. Ella Fitzgerald has a somber ballad. Dean Martin put in his natural charm, while Nat King Cole gave it a Motown spin. It’s a rare song that sounds great, no matter who sings it.
Tony’s take is no exception. There’s a certain nostalgia to this one. Perhaps it’s the reverb and distant vocals. Perhaps it’s the lone trumpet, the slowed pace, or the Humphrey Bogart cover art. Whatever the “je ne sais quoi” factor, I feel compelled to say something about this masterpiece. This will have to do.
3. “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”
Featured in: Mafia: Definitive Edition (performed by the Duke Ellington orchestra)
Duke Ellington’s 1932 megahit “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” helped usher in the swing era of jazz during the ’30s and ’40s. Part of the appeal of swing jazz was its “big band” nature. Ellington hosted as many as 15 instrumentalists in his orchestra—including saxophones, trumpets, piano, bass, and more. And while Ellington himself was certainly elite, his ensemble members were virtuosos in their own right.
In the spirit of the original tune, I just had to include this live rendition from Bennett. Here, he cedes the floor to spotlight a younger talent, the drummer Clayton Cameron. A global jazz studies lecturer at UCLA, Cameron has toured with Bennett, George Shearing, and Sammy Davis, Jr. He’s also played alongside Sinatra, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, and a cavalcade of others.
At its heart, jazz is about community. It’s about bringing others into the fold. It’s about learning from giants, empowering future generations, and celebrating art both old and new. Duke knew it, and Bennett knew it, too.
4. “Fly Me to the Moon”
Featured in: Bayonetta (performed by Helena Noguerra)
Perhaps the greatest jazz standard of all time, “Fly Me to the Moon” is known by audiences far and wide. In 2009, Sega and PlatinumGames introduced Bayonetta to the masses—alongside a sultry remix of the classic tune. And while I love Helena Noguerra’s take, there’s nothing quite like how the oldies do it.
Tony Bennett’s “Fly Me to the Moon” is soft yet stated, smooth yet powerful. That run at 1:00 in the video above tells you all you need to know about Tony’s ability to capture the heart. Unlike Sinatra, who was a baritone, Bennett had a higher register—granting him access to an entirely different range of emotions. His mastery of phrasing and tone truly was without equal.
5. “Pennies from Heaven”
Featured in: Mafia II (performed by Louis Prima)
Sometimes, a rendition of a classic comes along that just can’t be topped. Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.” Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Disturbed’s “The Sound Of Silence” (I’m serious; don’t at me).
Louis Prima’s “Pennies from Heaven” is another sterling example. If his cover wasn’t a household listen in 1957, it certainly became one in 2003, when it was featured in the legendary Christmas movie Elf. Since then, it’s hard for me to associate the song with other names.
Well, Tony Bennett’s version comes close. The song sits right within his tenor range, letting him belt out notes with authority. At the same time, there’s a subtle restraint to his singing, as if he’s admitting he’s got more in the tank. Couple this with a smooth backing of the band, and you’ve got a million-dollar ditty.
6. “Night and Day”
Featured in: BioShock (performed by Billie Holiday)
It’s fitting that Tony Bennett’s final studio album was a collaboration with Lady Gaga. Seven years after their first album, Cheek to Cheek, the duo reunited for another love letter to decades past. Love for Sale featured a medley of classics, including “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and, of course, “Night and Day.”
Funny enough, these songs (and all the others on Love for Sale) were penned by none other than Cole Porter. That’s right! The stodgy songwriter’s back, folks.
Jokes aside, I wonder what Porter would think of a tribute album in 2021. On one side of the recording booth, you’ve got a then-95 legend of old, while on the other you have a then-35 megastar of today. Two fundamentally different artists, representing different genders, genres, and generations. And yet, they paired together like red wine and filet mignon.
That, more than anything, was Tony Bennett’s legacy in my eyes. He was someone who stood the test of time and lived to appreciate people of all creeds. He was a master of his craft, and he maintained that voice and charm until the very end. Not a bad run.
We’ll miss ya, Tone.
What crooner classics did I miss? Share your favorite jazz standards in gaming in the comments below.