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Monday, September 2, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Touch Of Class From Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett added a touch of class to Bumbershoot Friday, delivering two lively performances marked by showmanship, style and generosity of spirit.

The great pop singer, showing no signs of slowing down at age 65, brought a sense of drama to his repertoire of great American songs, not only by his brilliant interpretations of the lyrics but also by a sudden shouted word, a snap of the fingers, a twist of the body, or a simple handclap.

He tested the acoustics of the Opera House by putting down the microphone and singing "Fly Me to the Moon" without amplification, a gesture that hushed the crowd and filled the theater with the warmth and power of his matchless vocal instrument. It was the single most moving moment of the concert.

Later he had the whole house - a capacity crowd at the first show, and about half-capacity at the second, which I saw - singing along to a jazzy arrangement of "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Bennett's rapport with the audience was remarkably easygoing for such a legendary, revered figure. He walked onto the stage with his three-piece backup group, with no announcement or fanfare, like he was just one of the musicians. He talked and joked easily with the crowd, saying at one point that he had just returned from a tour of Japan, and offering a sample of that country's favorite song: "I'll Take Manhattan."

"I've put together the finest American songs I can think of for you," he said at the beginning of the hour-long set. `"o sit back and relax and enjoy."

Among the two dozen or so songs was his signature tune, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," which he has been doing for 30 years and yet still was able to animate by the sheer power of his personality. It earned him one of several standing ovations.

He sang a beautiful version of "When Joanna Loves Me," explaining that he liked the song so much, he named his daughter after it. He did a tribute to Duke Ellington, with a moving "In My Solitude" and a jumping "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

Although he leaned toward standards - " 'S Wonderful," "Taking a Chance on Love," "More Than You Know," "Just In Time" - one of the most dramatic presentations was his recent hit, "When Do the Bells Ring for Me," which also was a show-stopper when he performed it at the Grammys earlier this year.

Bennett's fine trio was led by his longtime pianist, the talented Ralph Sharon, who over the years has developed an innate sense of communication with Bennett.

Earlier the same night, the Neville Brothers turned the Coliseum - or the Miller Mainstage as it is known at Bumbershoot - into a close approximation of a New Orleans festival. The legendary foursome, augmented by three additional musicians, played highly rhythmic party music that had pockets of the near-capacity crowd up and dancing.

Some tunes featured the brothers' beautiful close harmonies, and Aaron Neville, the most famous of the siblings, did several songs from his new solo album, "Warm Your Heart."

Bumbershoot continues today, highlighted by performances from pop-crooner Chris Isaak, light-hearted New Zealand rock band Crowded House, Tex-Mex superstars the Texas Tornados, and jazz sax great Branford Marsalis.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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