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Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisBetween dying off or loosing the singing quality for which they first found fame, the days of male vocal giants are dwindling just as quickly as "American Idol" stars are running out of their fifteen minutes of fame. The leaders of the surviving pack from the astute side of the 1950s and 60s are unquestionably Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett, both of whom certainly paid their dues over the decades instead of finding overnight acclaim. Perhaps that's why both continue to experience longevity on the CD sales charts and on the road, which in the case of the former, included a return engagement to the Windy City with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra.
Whereas Mathis' 2006 appearance at the same venue was timed to support his latest Christmas collection, this outing is behind a disc of old school soul and jazz covers called A Night To Remember (Columbia). Yet the classy entertainer had plenty to mine from across an impressive career spanning over fifty years and millions of records sold. Add in the lush backing of the spacious symphony directed by Arnie Roth (Art Garfunkel, Diana Ross) and it was hard not to be impressed by the evening of elegance.
Many of the concert's early strengths came from a string of golden oldies, including "It's Not For Me To Say," "Chances Are" and "Gina," all staples of Mathis' set lists that may possess their fair share of trite lyrics, but remain timeless tunes of romance nonetheless. Even so, the living legend often inserted a few chuckle worthy comments into his banter about the significance of a past single and gratitude over how many people have connected with the material over the years. Still one of the show's most meaningful segments came from stripped down renditions of "99 Miles From L.A." and "The Twelfth of Never," which earned modern day face lifts thanks to acoustic guitar accompaniment.
The evening also interjected some brisker slices of variety, such as the later career hit "Brazil (Aquarela do Brasil)," which was infused with spicy Latin rhythms and even a few suave dance steps from Mathis. Interpretations of other people's material, like an absolutely radiant take on The Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New," added to the ambiance and his overall versatility. Even more remarkable than the songs selected were Mathis' practically flawless pipes, which despite tipping 72, run circles around pretty much anyone in the current vocal class.
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