Lessons From Tony
Antonia Bennett on Being the Daughter of Jazz Icon Tony Bennett

By Lee Valentine Smith

As the daughter of an iconoclastic performer, singer-actress Antonia Bennett has learned a thing or two about show business. An interpreter of standards and a writer of thought-provoking, groove-laden adult alternative and jazz, the busy performer trained as an actor at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. Since the middle of this decade, she's been opening shows for her famous father, the legendary Tony Bennett.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, the Berklee alum began appearing as an opening act or special guest at her father's shows but the two have harmonized since she was a child. With a handful of solid albums to her credit, the personable vocalist is currently working on a new release, but for her current tour, she'll stick to the Great American Songbook. INsite spoke with her from her home in Southern California.

A great benefit of being on the show is that you have a built-in fanbase. If they like him, they'll probably enjoy your set as well.

His crowd is just ready to have a good time. They come out, ready to enjoy themselves and that's so lovely.

I'm always amazed by the wide variety of ages at a Tony Bennett show.

He's very lucky that way. He always says that, back when he was putting his show together at the Paramount, doing seven shows a day, he said he always wanted to do a show that people of all ages could enjoy.

I've seen the show a number of times and it's always different, a different groove at each venue. He's not going through the motions.

He really brings it, every night. He finds a way to make it new every time, like it's the first time he's singing those songs. He's just the ultimate pro. Never complains, there's just so many lessons to be learned from him. He's stellar at doing what he does and loves it. He always finds a way, even when it's a long travel day or when he's been working a lot, to never complain. He does his job. So much of what you do in life is your attitude and that's been a good lesson for me.

Besides the attitude, what has been the best thing you've learned from him?

There's so many things that he's sat down and told me. Like, when you sing "I love you," make sure you really mean it.

You are lucky in that you get to see the show every night you're on the bill.

That's where I've learned the most, I think. Just watching him. I've seen so many shows, watched him break in new material and watched just the evolution of his performances. You know, the road can be a grind but he loves it. The way he embraces the public, the way he treats his fans, because they're the people who bought the records, and the way he carries himself. Those are the big lessons for me. The music obviously is important, clearly, but the way you hold yourself and the way you're a decent human being, all of those are equal, and maybe even more important. It feels nice to be able to spend so much quality time with him. At this point in his life and at this point in my life, too.

He seems to have an old-school work ethic.

He does and you know, being famous in today's world is such a different bag than when he was coming along. But he's been able to maintain himself in a completely different world, just be being himself and doing what he loves to do. He's super-lessed but I am too, to be able to see it.

You came on the show pretty much fulltime a few years ago.

Yeah, on and off since 2000, but I've been sitting in with him since I was five. Early on, at the Fairmont Hotel, when I was a kid, I'd sit in with him and then every summer we'd go out on the road to places like Cape Cod Melody Tent. And a lot of those audiences, they'd come to the show year after year and they've literally watched me grow up as a singer. It's so bizarre but so amazing too. Certain places I go to, I feel like I'm coming home.

You were born at a very creative period in Tony Bennett's career, the '70s. He had his own label and was expanding his sound into cool jazz territory with Bill Evans in the middle of decade.

Right and some people called that a commercial failure because it didn't sell a lot of records at the time. But he's told me this, 'People said that was a flop, but everywhere I go, people tell me they love that record I did with Bill Evans.' So he sees it as not a failure but important that he did it because it's still selling, even today. So you have to stick to what you think is right and you have to do things that you feel are right for you. That's a big part of being an artist, somebody's gonna like it, but it might take decades to hear that they loved it. I think that's probably the best lesson I've learned from him. Just do what feels right to you.

Antonia Bennett plays Symphony Hall at 7:30 p.m. on July 24.For more information, please visit atlantasymphony.org.

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