Cole Porter once asked, “What Is This Thing Called Love,” and it’s a question that many of our greatest artists have grappled with ever since – creating some of America’s most enduring and timeless music in the process. Now, it’s Sylvia Bennett’s turn. On her new album, Songs From The Heart featuring the Three Tenors – Boots Randolph, Ed Calle and Kirk Whalum, the smooth jazz and pop vocalist sings of the vicissitudes of love with a warmth, clarity and spirit that is enveloping and tender, showcasing the depth of her skill, talent and experience.
The Italian born and American raised Bennett is a singer’s singer, having sung on TV, in community theater, club dates, conventions and even the inaugurations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Sylvia has opened for artists as diverse as Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Jackie Mason, Dizzy Gillespie, and Barry Gibb.
Her big break came in the 1980’s, when legendary vibraphonist (and National Arts Award Winner) Lionel Hampton took Sylvia under his wing and made her the first female singer to record with him in thirty years. She recounts, “Lionel validated me as a performer and inspired me to be the best singer I can be. He made me realize that the audience was the most important thing and that all I needed to do was to sing from the heart and be honest.” Sylvia worked with Hampton for ten years, touring and recording two albums together. The first, Sentimental Journey, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1987. The second project, There Will Never Be Another You, was a CD/DVD tribute to “Hamp” from Sylvia, and she furthered the honor to her mentor with the show, “The Lady and the Legend,” premiering in Miami in 2007.
Songs From The Heart featuring the Three Tenors emerged in the wake of Sylvia’s tribute to Hampton, when her producer, two-time Grammy nominee and two-time ASCAP Award winner, Hal Batt, suggested that she record timeless love songs and standards, backed by a small band to convey the desired intimacy. Sylvia was enamored of the idea immediately. “I’m a hopeless romantic,” she says unhesitatingly, “I think that love is what life is all about-wanting it, having it, losing it and having it again.” The songs, classics from the great American songbook, were chosen for how they related to the experience of love, making it a concept album, akin in spirit to Frank Sinatra‘s great concept albums of the mid-1950’s.
The album really took off when Sylvia was joined on the recording by tenor saxophone legends, Boots Randolph, Ed Calle and Kirk Whalum. The tenors enhance the album’s smoky and organic vibe, complementing Sylvia’s silky smooth voice. “It was a thrill to have those incredible players on the album,” enthuses Sylvia. “The only song they played on together was “Since I Fell For You,” and it was pure magic.” Producer Batt declares, “We captured a moment in time that won’t happen again between three of the greatest tenor sax players in the world.”
Sylvia’s exquisite taste shines in the selection and performance of the material. From “My Funny Valentine,” (“It sums up everything about love to me”) to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” (“Nothing and no one can take away the time you have with someone”) to “How Long Has This Been Going On,” (“I first sang that song in junior high-but now I really know what that song is about”), Sylvia utilizes her phenomenal ability to get inside these classic songs and have them reveal emotional dimensions previously unfamiliar.
Sylvia is eager to perform these songs in her natural environment – in front of a live audience. “I’ll be doing romance themed nights, performing the album as well as the material I did with Lionel Hampton,” she says. It’s clear that she’s immensely proud of Songs From The Heart featuring the Three Tenors and that she knows she touched on something. Sylvia concludes, “We live in such a technological world today that I think we forgot about touching people. I think we all need a hug, we need to be embraced – we’re living in a troubled world. There’s nothing better than romance and being with someone who can shelter you from those storms.”
- How Long Has This Been Going On
- Embraceable You
- They Can’t Take That Away From Me