For six decades, Tony Bennett has leant his inimitable voice to pop , standards, show tunes, jazz and beyond, sold over 50 million records worldwide and truly led a charmed life. In “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett,” the singer looks back on his extraordinary career and spells out his philosophical outlook on life. Here’s an excerpt.
I've been performing professionally as an entertainer now for over sixty years. Somehow I can’t believe the time has gone by so quickly, yet at other times it seems like six lifetimes. It’s been an amazing journey, and I feel privileged in that I’ve been successful doing what I love for my whole life. Of course there have been many up and downs, which I guess makes me like everyone else — but I can honestly say that I have never failed to try to learn from my mistakes.
I have grown to appreciate the power of believing in myself, and of always having faith in myself. I rarely look back; instead, I always look forward. There is so much of life that we miss when we wallow in regret. It’s important to me to concentrate my energies on all the things I still have yet to learn and experience. As a result, I’ve become a much better person. I’m at peace with myself, and I look forward to each new day.Video: Tony Bennett sings again on TODAY (on this page)
I was taught never to compromise; to never sing a cheap song. I never look down at the audience and think that they are ignorant, or think that I’m more intelligent than they are. To think otherwise is totally incorrect, and runs contrary to everything I was raised to believe. I was taught by my parents and teachers, who showed me that you should make every move with care, and put the accent on quality. If you apply this philosophy, you will never go wrong. And I have found that, in particular for a performer, the public will pick up on that attitude and will reward you by giving back what you give to them.
More in books
I love entertaining people; I strive to make them feel good, and they make me feel wonderful. To explain it simply, I like what I do, and my ambition is to get better as I get older. That’s really what I’m all about.
To my mind, being in the entertainment business is the best job that anyone could have. I get to travel the world over, meeting interesting people and experiencing many cultures. I’ve become close to artists of all ages in music, art, and the theater. I’ve sung for seven residents, and have performed for royalty. But best of all, I get to meet my fans — the people on the street — face to face. They are the ones that help me stay grounded. I learn more from them than anyone else.
I’m also lucky because I get to work with my family. I’m blessed with creative children: my eldest son Danny has been my manager for over 30 years, and Daegal produces and engineers my records. My daughter Joanna has dedicated her life to philanthropic endeavors; and my youngest, Antonia, is a talented singer in her own right, and often joins me on tour. My wife Susan has worked with me in realizing my dream of establishing a New York City public high school for the performing arts, and she travels with me wherever I go. Being surrounded by family is very important to me.
It’s such a privilege to be able to do what I do. I’ve always been single-minded about my vocation; I never had to ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” I always knew that I gravitated to singing and painting, because of my family upbringing. Even though we were very poor, my parents placed a high value on the arts.
From an early age, I’ve been blessed by knowing that I wanted to be involved in artistic endeavors. I am acquainted with so many intelligent people who seem to know so much, but I often find that they really have no idea what they want to do with their lives; they have no vision or sense of the bigger picture, and often they lack passion. I guess I’m just lucky that way – I’ve always known that I wanted to sing and paint. I’ve always had this drive – this feeling that I have no choice but to do what I do, for as long as I can remember. And fortunately I’m still in that state right now. I’m grateful that to this day, my passion and thirst for knowledge has continued throughout my entire life.Video: Tony Bennett, Thalia sing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ (on this page)
My goal is to improve all the time. Here I am today, at 86, and I’m even more passionate now than ever before. I feel that I’m at the top of my game, and things just keep getting better and better. I’m proud to say that I feel I’ve never worked a day in my life -- and I know that’s because I love what I do.
The Zen of Bennett: Work doesn’t feel like work if you’re passionate about what you do. Do something to improve yourself, every single day. Choose a career that encompasses what you gravitate to naturally, and you’ll have a satisfying lifelong vocation.
Reprinted from “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett” by Tony Bennett with permission from publisher Harper, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2012 by Tony Bennett.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive