NEW YORK (AP) — Frank Sinatra used to call Tony Bennett "the best singer in the business," and Bennett returned the favor at a loving tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes, calling Sinatra "my best friend" and performing a couple of his most loved numbers.
"He changed my whole career," the 88-year-old Bennett said of Sinatra at the Tribeca Film Festival tribute on Tuesday night, part of a yearlong Sinatra centennial celebration that also included a screening of the digitally restored Sinatra-Gene Kelly favorite — and love letter to New York — "On the Town."
"He told everyone I was his favorite singer, and I've been sold out ever since," Bennett said to cheers. His renditions of "I've Got the World on a String" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" were the emotional highlights of an evening that also featured performances by dancer Savion Glover and singers Alice Smith, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, Ne-Yo and Lea DeLaria.
But first there was "On the Town," the 1949 classic musical about three sailors on shore leave in the Big Apple, with only 24 hours to see the sights and find other, er, recreation. Directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, the film was adapted from the 1944 Broadway show and starred, along with Kelly and Sinatra, Betty Garrett and a tap-dancing Ann Miller. Kelly played the lovestruck Gabey, who spends day and night searching for the subway queen-of-the-month Miss Turnstiles, and Sinatra played Chip, who hooks up with a highly amorous taxi driver.
The film is known as the first musical shot (partly) on location in New York — the "wonderful town" of its opening song — and Sinatra granddaughter A.J. Lambert told the crowd it was exciting to watch the film and recognize many of the city's landmarks.
DeLaria, who stars in "Orange is the New Black," launched the musical portion of the show with "Luck Be a Lady." Between numbers, she shared observations on Sinatra, including the anecdote that he was initially very uncomfortable learning to dance — hard as it is to imagine the silky crooner uncomfortable with anything — but was helped along by a patient Kelly.
Glover tapped to "Just in Time," Ne-Yo performed "You Make Me Feel So Young," and Smith stood out with soulful renditions of several songs including "The Lady is a Tramp." Flowers channeled Sinatra-like smoothness in "Come Fly With Me."
After Bennett topped off the night, there was one more song to sing, performed by the rest of the cast: What else? "New York, New York."
Next up in the festival's "Sinatra at 100" tribute will be screenings of Charles Walters' "High Society" and Vincente Minnelli's "Some Came Running."