Here’s a story I’d love to share with you about my recent trip to New York City to see Tony Bennett in concert for his 85th Birthday celebration.
I was picked up by 3:00 PM in front of my condo by the limo and whisked off to Pearson Airport where a private plane was waiting for us. Our party of 10 was dropped off 30 feet from the plane for a champagne and wine flight to New Jersey. We arrived at 5:00 PM, US customs was all pre-arranged and we jumped into two stretch limos waiting to take us to the Plaza Hotel. Here, we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails before we went back into the limos and on to the Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. We were a bit late and Tony Bennett was already performing with the great Aretha Franklin, so we stood where we could still see them. Then we were quickly escorted to our seats where President Bill Clinton was seated 20 feet away. After Aretha’s fabulous performance, Tony invited Elton John to the stage where he performed to an enthralled crowd.
The Metropolitan Opera House is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the entire world and that night it was packed to capacity.
You could almost cut the excitement in the air! Tony was in fabulous voice as always. When he sang “Fly Me To The Moon” accapella, it reminded me of The Imperial Room and all the great times that we’ve shared since first meeting in 1971. He has been such a great friend, I thought back to the days of running the Canadian Italian Amateur Hockey League, when Tony would travel with me to the George Bell Arena to throw the first puck. I remember him coming to our first little home in Etobicoke for dinner, how the word spread like wild fire that he was there and how suddenly our house was surrounded by ecstatic neighbours and Tony gratiously signed autographs to each and every one of them.
After Tony’s marvelous and brilliant performance and to the sound of numerous encores and thunderous applause, we walked out of the Opera House into a huge tent with seating for 500. Through the kindness and generosity of Will Burton, a great guy and same friend who who invited me, chartered the plane and planned the entire evening, we were fortunate to have a wonderful table at the exclusive birthday dinner for . All proceeds went to the Frank Sinatra School of Fine Arts of which he founded. There were numerous pictures of Tony and his lovely wife Susan standing proudly beside gifted students who had been awarded scholarships. A few weeks before we had watched Tony perform at the Rexall Centre with Diana Krall opening for him. (I’ll have to tell you all about our wonderful experience that night with Tony and his wife Susan, Diana Krall and her husband Elvis Costello, my daughter Patti, son-in-law Dave and Frank DeAngelo another time!) Backstage after that show I had let Tony know that I had been invited and would be coming to his birthday celebration. He was so happy I was coming and now it was hard to believe I was actually here!
As I walked in I found myself in front of a very tanned George Hamilton. I said “Mr. Hamilton, my name is Louis Jannetta and I worked at the famous Imperial Dining Room at the Royal York Hotel. I had the privilege of meeting the greatest stars from all over the world”. I knew his father was a famous orchestra leader. We had a great conversation about him and then we took a picture together. At the entrance we were being escorted to our table when I saw Regis Philbin. I said hello and that I loved his show. I added that when he performed for our Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion’s Gala my daughter Patti and her band performed right after him for the dancing part of the show. I had also sent one of my books backstage to him. He seemed genuine when he said he remembered and had enjoyed it.
The MC was none other than Alec Baldwin and what a fabulous job he did! During the dinner Elton John sang hit after hit for at least an hour to constant ovations and thunderous applause. Just before dessert arrived I walked towards Regis’s table and there was Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere and Whoopee Goldburg having an animated conversation with Regis. I didn’t want to interrupt but noticed Robert DiNiro sitting alone. I approached him and introduced myself and mentioned I was a good friend of the late Dusty Cole, the originator of the International Film Festival. He loved him so we spoke about what a great guy he was and then had our picture taken together. Aretha Franklin was at the next table. I smiled and told her how much I enjoyed her performance. We started talking about how some of the greatest female voices had performed in the Imperial Room. Stars like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt and she said she knew them all. I told her I wished she had of performed there. We shared some warm conversation and then had our picture taken. I went by Regis’s table again and struck up a conversation with Alec Baldwin, then Whoopee Goldburg and Richard Gere and had pictures taken with all of them. I noticed Elton John and husband David at the next table. I bowed and said “Your Lordship, we met many years ago when you brought the cast of a show you’d just seen to see Phyllis Diller”. David laughed and said “I know you Louis, and my mother knows you. She used to come to the Imperial Room”. He asked for my card so I could send his Mom my book. Then Elton and I had our picture taken. What an experience! What memories!
Thanks to my friend Will Burton I experienced an incredible night I will treasure forever.
A night spent honouring the birthday of my great and dear friend Tony Bennett.