Don’t ask Tony Bennett why he keeps performing when he’s about to turn 93 next week.
Don’t ask the legendary crooner why he pokes fun at his age with lines like “As I approach the prime of my life,” when he sings “This Is All I Ask.”
Don’t ask him why he keeps recording duets. (Six of his past nine albums have been vocal collaborations, including last year’s “Love Is Here to Stay” with Diana Krall.)
When you get a chance to ask Bennett — who returns to Minneapolis on Sunday — eight or nine questions via e-mail, you try for something less obvious.
Q: Every time I see you, you seem to radiate more and more joie de vivre. Where does that come from?
A: Thank you for saying that — it’s very nice to hear. It took some time, but I learned that stress was a killer and that no matter what’s going on, you have to stay as positive as possible. I truly believe life is a gift and each and every day is another opportunity to learn something new. Enjoy nature, which never disappoints. There is always something you can find that lifts your spirits.
I have always tried to avoid dwelling on the past and keep looking forward, so I think that also helps keep a positive attitude as you let go of regret. Over time I learned that the mistakes I have made taught me more than the things I did that were instantly successful. To be heading toward my 93rd birthday and still be able to perform and be healthy, it makes you appreciate every day.
Q: Where does all your energy come from? What do you do to stay in shape? Do you still play tennis?
A: I am Italian so the pasta helps … but really I have to credit my wife, Susan, who makes sure I work out at least three times a week and also that I don’t eat too much pasta! She really is responsible for keeping me going.
Unfortunately, a few years ago, I was crossing the street in New York City and tore something in my foot. It took quite some time to heal, so after that I gave up tennis, but I go to the gym regularly.
Q: How do you think your voice and singing have changed over the years?
A: Well, I started out as a tenor but have ended up as a baritone so that changes some things. But truly, as a singer, my premise has remained the same over the time: When I perform or record a song, my intention is to make a definitive version. It’s about communicating what the composer wanted to convey with the lyrics and using the melody to enhance and emphasize certain lyrics. So my intention as a singer hasn’t really changed at all since I first started out.
Q: Since the great Ralph Sharon passed away in 2015, you have worked with a few different pianists. What do you look for in a pianist? What appeals to you about working with Bill Charlap, with whom you’ve done recent albums?
A: Ralph was an absolute blessing to have as a musical director and pianist, as he really pushed me to gravitate toward jazz and fight to keep that connection between pop and jazz in my recordings. And, of course, he found my signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Onstage we were able to communicate with something like telepathy; he always knew where I was going. And I think it’s that intuition that a pianist needs to have when working with a vocalist — Ralph definitely understood that.
And then, of course, I have been very fortunate with pianists named Bill — Bill Charlap and then the late Bill Evans. Both of them are jazz pianists, which is why I loved to work with them both so much; they have an intuitive nature that allows them to respond to a vocalist almost before you have sung a note. They are anticipating so they are able to go with you wherever the song may lead.
Q: Are you finding new material — older songs you’ve rediscovered or newer tunes you have never interpreted? What do you look for in a song?
A: I am still interested in the Great American Songbook as that, for me, is where the “silver lining” can be found — “Look for the Silver Lining” is one of my favorite songs by Jerome Kern. And since we mentioned Bill Charlap, the album we did dedicated to Kern’s music [2015’s “The Silver Lining”] was an absolute favorite of mine.
From the very beginning, I tried to create a “hit catalog” and not just go after a hit song — many of which that were brought to me in the early days were novelty songs that might hit it big for a few weeks and then be forgotten. It’s a rare thing when the lyrics and melody come together in a perfect marriage, and when I find a song that has that quality I get very excited and I have to sing it — not just want to sing it. But most important is it has to be a song that I know I can communicate to an audience, that I understand what is being conveyed both in the words and the music.
Q: When you’re in concert, what goes through your mind when you’re singing?
A: I really focus on the audience and are they being entertained. That is what I want to do onstage — make people feel good and have a good time. So there might be times when you need to slow things down and switch to a ballad, or pick up the pace and throw in a swing tune. Which is why I love working with a jazz quartet. They are such master musicians that you can change things instantly onstage effortlessly.
Before the show, I still get “butterflies” and hope that the sound will be good, the lighting is effective, etc. But once I am onstage it’s all about making the audience feel good and enjoy themselves, so you have to be in the moment all the time.
Q: Why do you try to paint every day? And how do you paint when you are on the road?
A: I started drawing as a child so it’s been something I have been doing all my life. In fact, there was a time in elementary school that I thought I might give up singing and just paint, but I had a music teacher who encouraged me to stick with music, too.
It was Duke Ellington who encouraged me to take my artwork more seriously. He said it was better to have more than one creative outlet, and he was absolutely correct.
If I get a bit burned out by performing, then I head to my art studio and I paint and four hours goes by like four minutes, and I feel completely refreshed. It allows me to stay in a creative zone all the time.
I always carry a small sketchbook in my suit jacket. I often get asked “what is my favorite technology” and then I pull out the pencil I keep with my sketchbook to show them.
On the road, it’s best to stick with watercolors and then at my studio I can use oils. For many years, I had a habit of drawing on the napkins and tablecloths of restaurants where I was dining.
Q: What did you think of Alec Baldwin’s impression of you on “Saturday Night Live”? What does he get right? What’s wrong?
A: Every once in awhile I will do a self-portrait and I won’t think it’s very good but someone will look at it and say you really have captured yourself. So I think it’s hard to see yourself in someone else’s impersonation of you.
My son Dan had told me that Alec had created a Tony Bennett character for “SNL” and the first time I saw Alec dressed up as me was when I was performing on the show. I heard Alec was a bit nervous about being with me as the Tony Bennett character so when I saw him I said, “Your nose is too big” and that cut all the tension. Alec has been a dear friend and when we did my 90th birthday special he came onstage at Radio City as me and we had some fun with it.
Q: How do you want to be remembered?
A: As a nice person.