Around the Island

Shorelines: A night to remember

Does anyone need me to tell them that a Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga concert was outstanding?

Whaddayakiddingme?

No, this is not a review of “One Last Time: a 95th Birthday Concert” featuring these two superstars out of Queens, but a personal reflection on a musical evening that touched me deeply.

The partnership between Gaga and Bennett is a well-known duet of love and mutual admiration for talents whose merger added a new chapter to the jazz world. They came together for “One Last Time” at Radio City several weeks ago, and the taped concert was aired on Sunday evening of Thanksgiving weekend.

Lucky enough to be in the audience with my daughters, it wasn’t lost on me that my family would be marking in a few days the 10th anniversary of the passing of our patriarch, Hugh Carey. He spent eight years as Governor of New York, 63 years as a father and 35 as a grandfather.

In the countless memories those years created, much of it was set to music. The soundtrack to “Gigi” provided highlights to weddings, christenings and birthdays, as he sang “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” After tackling the New York City fiscal crisis, he embraced “New York, New York,” punching it out with gusto after crediting Frank Sinatra with teaching him a few tricks about how to deliver the song.

“The Guv” loved music, and being a public figure gave him a chance to get to know some of his favorite stars, like Sinatra and Tony Bennett. One of his prized possessions was a framed sketch Tony Bennett, who has been as dedicated to his art as much as to music, had done of the Guv on a cocktail napkin.

One summer, my father and I attended a Tony Bennett concert at Southampton College and went backstage after the show. My father was wearing a soft, white neck brace while he recovered from spine surgery. His army service in World War II held deep importance for him, and in recognition of Tony Bennett’s own military service, he presented the singer with a Combat Infantryman’s Badge like the one he wore in tribute to his fallen comrades.

In return, Tony Bennett autographed his neck brace.

Leaving the concert, we decided to stop at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor to savor the wonderful concert we’d just enjoyed. The hotel is a favorite haunt of Billy Joel, who sure enough was there that night. As we recounted the evening’s highlights, he declared that he, too, should sign the Guv’s collar. That vintage white neck brace, with the two autographs, is among the more eccentric mementos our family keeps in our Shelter Island home.

The night of the Radio City concert, the crowd was as eager to cheer the artists as to shake off the COVID quarantine that had clipped their wings. A lost joy returned, seeing the glorious lobby of Radio City filled with audience members lined up to buy beverages and souvenirs.

And any time Lady Gaga said the words “New York” the cheers shook the rafters. After opening the show in silver sequins and white fur, she reappeared in a black leather bouffant dress, then pulled out a black silk top hat to launch into “New York, New York.” Was I dancing in the aisles? Who wasn’t?

Tony Bennett performed for the second half of the show, which is remarkable. At 95, he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so that even appearing at all came with some uncertainty. When the curtain came up, there he stood by the piano, elegant and understated in a dark suit. Any worry about his memory vanished as he delivered song after song, pitch perfect and not missing a word.

The audience leaped to their feet after each one, holding out hands and applauding as if to say, “Thank you for the chance to say how much we love you.” Whatever challenges he may be facing in other aspects of life, the music is deeply infused in every cell of his body.

The mind has so many mysteries, the singer’s memory loss among them. It sometimes betrays us, but in our best moments, it holds the imprint of the past, the joy of the present and the promise of the future in a single thought.

Watching the show when it aired on Sunday from the comfort of home, as did family members and millions of other viewers, I yielded to that moment and added, whether from the mind or the heart I cannot say, a measure of gratitude.