With the release of her eclectic debut EP, ‘Natural,’ Antonia Bennett shows the world she is standing in her iconic father Tony Bennett’s light, not his shadow. Lest anyone think she is a second-generation novelty act, Antonia has the amazing vocal chops and skill of a gifted song interpreter and will appeal to jazz audiences both old and new! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this talented young lady to discuss her musical roots, her famous father, the process of creating her album, and what we can look forward to hearing from her in the near future!
As someone who came from a very musical family, what are your first memories of being around music?
Gosh, I have always been around music. When my dad was living in Los Angeles with us, when I was very, very young, he was making a record with Bill Evans, so I had him around the house as a very small child. There were always a bunch of great musicians around! My neighbor was, so I remember going over there and watching him write songs. I was always surrounded by great people like Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald. All of those people were around and at Christmas time they would all throw parties where everyone would get up and sing! Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra and all of those people were around when I was a kid and it seemed very normal and natural!
Is a career in music something that you wanted to pursue early on?
Well I always loved music. I was always interested in it and I always did it. My dad would bring me out on stage when I was just a little kid, so I just started doing it! I was also interested in a lot of other art forms. When I was a kid, I loved to paint and draw and I was also interested in dance, acting, theater, writing, all sorts of things. Then as I got older, I just started singing more and more. I ended up going to Berklee College of Music where I really cultivated it and really became a professional singer, not just along my dad’s side but also in my own right. I really came into myself.
When looking to spread your wings as an artist, do you view having such an iconic father as a blessing, a curse or is it a bit of both?
There are a lot of different ways to look at things but I just try to stand in my dad’s light, not his shadow and focus on the good things. We are all dealt a different deck of cards in life. Wherever you come from, it is your choice to make the best of it. I feel like I have a really blessed situation and I feel like I want to take it, especially now, that I have been able to work with and spend so much time with him, I really see it as a blessing. I have learned so much from him, so there is no point in my focusing on the negative aspects of it.
That is a great attitude to have and obviously your talents are evident on your album. You certainly have the chops and your work stands on its own.
You mentioned all of the great music influences around you growing up but was there a point that stands out in your mind where your dad’s talent and star power became evident to you?
I always knew that he was special but all of the other people that I lived around were also special people, ya know! [laughs] They all had special circumstances, so it seemed kind of normal to me that there would be people like that around and that we were in a special situation. For years, when I was a child, my dad had been working so hard, two shows a night. His shows were always sold out and he always worked. It was when I was in college that he had a huge resurgence. It wasn’t a surprise to me because he always worked so hard. Anyone who works that hard and wants it bad enough is bound to get what they want, especially if they have the talent to back it up.
Speaking of hard work, you just released your first EP, ‘Natural.’ How was it working with renowned producer Holly Knight on the album? What did she bring to the table?
Holly was great to work with! We started out as just friends who were going to write a song together. We actually are shopping a deal for a pop record, like a hot adult contemporary pop record. We have been working on that project for the past couple years in between my touring. As we started writing these songs and it got to the point that we wanted to do a full record, I said to her, “I feel like if I did this and I don’t take a snapshot of what I have been doing up until now, it would be kind of disrespectful to all of the work that I have put in up until this point.” I had been going in such a different direction. She said, “That is a great idea because you sing those songs so well!” Then I called Larry Goldings, a great jazz pianist who has worked with so many great musicians. He has worked with James Taylor, Pat Metheny and the list goes on and on. I had met him because I had sung a debut with Tom Wopat on his record called ‘The Still of The Night’ many years ago. Russ Titelman, the producer of that record, was nice enough to introduce me to Larry. We played on that record together and formed a relationship. At the time, we were both living in New York. Now we are both living in LA. I thought, “What a perfect opportunity to call him and do this!” He has such a beautifully open and spacey way of playing that I knew that it would just work. Holly was really great and made sure that we were comfortable and that we had everything that we needed to go in and do it, the support in that way was immense. It has been really exciting to go out there and put it all on the table and just continually work with such great people like Holly and Larry is such a blessing!
How did you choose the songs for the EP? It is quite an eclectic mix.
For the most part, Larry and I sat down at the piano and thought about standards that we really loved and a way to provide different interpretations that people hadn’t heard yet. We just started going through tunes. ‘Putting on the Ritz’ is a tune that I used to sing when I was just a little girl, I used to get up on stage and sing it. I thought to myself that I would just love to do this song after so many years. Larry suggested ‘Soon’ and suggested that we try a country tune with a jazz treatment, which I thought was a great idea, so we did ‘I Fall To Pieces.’ Holly really wanted me to do a jazz rendition of ‘Love Is A Battlefield,’ which I was really excited to do because I grew up listening to Pat Benatar and all different kinds of music. That is what jazz music is, taking something, putting your own spin on it and making it your own. To have the opportunity to do that with one of Pat Benatar’s songs, which is so contemporary, was really great. Darrin Johnson was the pianist on that one and he did a great job of working with me on that and did a tremendous job!
You mentioned doing a full album. When can fans expect that?
Really soon! It looks like I will be headed into the studio in November at some point to lay it down. I am really excited about that! Hopefully, around the end of January or February of 2011, it will be out on iTunes and Amazon for people to purchase. I am really looking forward to that!
You have been touring and opening up with your father for a while now. What has that experience been like for you?
It is really tremendous working with him. One thing is that I get to spend time with my dad and that is really special because these are moments that I am never going to forget. Also, his whole team of people are just so fantastic and they make it so easy in the sense that I don’t have to worry about anything. I know that the sound is going to be the best that it can possibly be, that we will be in beautiful concert halls, that the musicians are going to be wonderful at their craft and that we will be playing for people that are really excited to come out and see a show! It really gives me the opportunity to go out there and have a really good time! That is an unexplainable feeling, to be able to do that and not worry about the other little details!
What can people expect from a live show musically?
Musically, on my dad’s show, I am doing standards because that is what the show calls for. It is really a review of those great American songs! There are some songs from the record that we do and some other songs that I just love. We always try to switch it up and add new things in along the way, so that the show is a little bit different each night. We really go out there and hope that everyone has a good a time as we do playing for them!
What do you consider your biggest milestone so far musically?
Gosh, it is so hard to say because for me, it is one thing to be recognized, which is terrific. I think more and more I have been recognized by my peers and my fans but I think the most important thing for me is to grow as a musician. I think sometimes when that is happening, you don’t even realize that is what is going on! You take a step back a few months later and realize, “Wow! I just did all of this!” I think that this period of working with Holly Knight has been great because I have grown as a writer and I think that this is just the beginning! I think that this is the milestone of the beginning of me really blossoming into a songwriter as well as an interpreter. I have been interpreting my whole life and I think that is an art form in itself. I think a lot of people don’t realize how important that is. There are some people that did that so well, like Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole or my father. These people are real interpreters and nowadays so many people do so many different things that it gets lost sometimes. I just hope that as a writer, when I am interpreting those songs, or when I am singing someone elses song, I really try to make it a part of me and give it a story with a beginning, middle and end. As long as I can continue to do that and every time I do that, it is a milestone, when I succeed in telling the story.
What is the best piece of advice someone has given you along the way in your career that you would pass on to someone interested in making music a career?
Wow! I have gotten a lot of advice over the years but I think the best piece of advice I ever got was from Duke Ellington. I didn’t get it from him personally but I have seen it written and it is on my dad’s wall. It says, “Number one, never give up. Number two, remember number one!” [laughs]
What is the best place for fans to find out more about you?
I have a website at www.antoniabennett.com to get more information. I have a Facebook fan page as well that can be accessed directly from the website. There are always updates when the music is coming out and where I will be playing. You can check those out and see what I am up to!
Awesome! Thank you for your time, Antonia! We will spread the word and look forward to seeing even more of you in the future!