He may have left his heart in San Francisco but when it comes to his mind, Tony Bennett is in a good place.
So much so the 86-year-old singing legend and painter just released a book, Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett, on Nov. 20, which details his life and career philosophy, is illustrated with his own artwork, and has an accompanying documentary available on Netflix and DVD.
The project comes on the heels of a new album, Viva Duets, released Oct. 22, which features Bennett doing his hits with Latino artists including Marc Anthony and Christina Aguilera, that debuted at No. 5 in the U.S., but went to No. 1 in most Latin countries.
"I'm selling more records that any other artist in the world," says Bennett. "I'm really surprised because there's such an accent on youth orientation and I was always the opposite."
We caught up with him from his New York home to talk about his idea of zen and more.
Q: Have you always been zen?
A: Being a senior citizen now I can look back and see my accomplishments, but also all the very strong amount of mistakes that I made in my life. And that's become my education.
Q: You've had so many famous mentors (Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra), friends (Cary Grant, Fred Astaire) and musical collaborators (Duke Ellington, Rosemary Clooney). The book almost reads like you're namedropping.
A: I am a namedropper. These were the most exciting people in world.
Q: You're also critical in the book of producers like Mitch Miller and Clive Davis, who tried to push you in musical directions you weren't comfortable with.
A: When the uncreative tell the creative what to do, it stops becoming art.
Q: What was one of the biggest mistakes that you learned from?
A: I had a big entourage when I was younger ... and they were stealing all my money and all my girlfriends and all my clothes and everything. And I saw Jack Benny walking in Las Vegas at about eight o'clock in the morning ... and I just got rid of the whole entourage. To this day, I don't have bodyguards or anything.
Q: Who gave you the best advice, either professionally or personally?
A. My wonderful relatives, they were all in the grocery business, and they all used to come over every Sunday. So they would say, 'We love the way you sing. And we love the way you paint those flowers.' And I remember very clearly having them create a passion in my life because I kept saying, 'This is who I am.' To this day I'm still very passionate about improving myself on a daily basis.
Q: What's the best piece of advice you can give today's up-and-coming singers?
A: Think in terms of longevity ... The New York Times reviewed my catalogue from 1950 to now, and they said there isn't one (song) that isn't just perfect ... they don't think it'll ever happen again.
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