Every year, UCSB Arts & Lectures brings many of the world’s best minds (and bodies!) in every scientific and creative field, from modern dance to particle physics, to an audience that spans the entire range of the Santa Barbara population. At event after event, Nobel Prize winners sit side by side with schoolchildren, listening to the ideas and reveling in the performances that will propel us forward into this new century. Although the university offers the support that only it can, the rest of this extraordinary enterprise depends on the generosity of those members of our community who get the organization’s mission and who share in its passion for encountering the best of the best. In recognition of its core group of supporters, Arts & Lectures celebrated the conclusion of a landmark season in 2012-13 with a gala event at the Montecito Country Club last week. Guests gathered in the club’s grand entrance hall before being ushered into an impromptu nightclub that served up supper and a short live auction. The items up for grabs included Steve Martin’s banjo and Yo-Yo Ma’s Eastman cello, both tokens of longstanding relationships with the organization on the part of the contributing artists.
Tony Bennett is truly a wonder of nature. At 86, he commands a stage and a room with the authority of one of the 20th century’s greatest voices. Fronting a trio, Bennett cruised through a range of his hits — songs like “The Good Life,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” — yet punctuated them with such idiosyncratic choices as Hank Williams Sr.’s “Cold, Cold Heart.” Through it all, Bennett’s dynamic stage presence, his distinguished phrasing and delivery, and his heartfelt emotional connection to the lyrics captivated the audience. To see this caliber of artist in such an intimate setting is a privilege, and the thrill of it simmered throughout the night.
For those who were there, or those who wish they had been there, I have a recommendation. Sony Legacy has been on a tear lately with reissues of interesting material from their vaults, and none of it is any better or more fun than Bennett and Brubeck’s The White House Sessions, 1962. This live recording of a young Dave Brubeck and an even younger Tony Bennett was made at a state dinner hosted by President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. Each gentleman plays a short set, and then for four magical songs (including “That Old Black Magic”), the two geniuses combine to form what is surely one of the swingingest quartets in history. As with Arts & Lectures’ wonderful benefit, the message is one of elegant hope. Put on your best dinner jacket America — this is Camelot.