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Tony Bennett celebrates 90 with a new album, book, and upcoming TV special

Dictionary.com has several different meanings for the word “artist.” Among them, “a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria,” or “a person who practices one of the fine arts, like a painter or sculptor,” and closest for purposes of this post, “a person who works in the performing arts, as an actor, musician or singer, a public performer.”

That just about sums up the life and collected works of Anthony Dominick Benedetto, who we all know in his more familiar guise of Tony Bennett. His ability to interpret a song lyric has made him one of the premier sought-after vocalists for decades. Bennett is not known for his songwriting — he takes other people’s lyrics and makes them his own, having his way with the song in the same manner that Ol’ Blue Eyes did.

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Like many other artists, Bennett’s career has had a distinctive arc to it. His famous orchestrated big ballad sound fell out of favor as those pesky rock n’ rollers came into vogue, then MTV eventually discovered him and ended up doing a 1994 “Unplugged” special that re-launched his career for a new generation. Bennett was the epitome of retro cool, and that resonated with a newer, younger audience that was appreciative of his presentation.

Now Bennett has reached a true milestone — 90 years of age. While his actual birthday was on August 3, the public gets a chance to wish him a happy birthday by virtue of his new release, Tony Bennett Celebrates 90. The album, released just yesterday, contains cuts from the special, and as is the case with many high-profile releases, this one comes in different packages (Amazon has an exclusive deluxe set, with two additional discs featuring unreleased and live cuts).

Bennett is a multi-media kind of fellow. Besides being a singer, he’s also been a prolific painter. He has a new book out, too. And in addition to those releases, he’ll be starring in an NBC special on Tuesday night. DownBeat News notes that the two-hour special was taped in New York City on September 15 and features “Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Michael Bublé, Andrea Bocelli, Kevin Spacey and many others. Additionally, performances by Billy Joel and Elton John were taped at alternate locations and will appear in the broadcast and on the CD.”

If you think he’s amazingly busy for someone his age, ask the man himself. He’ll tell you the same thing, just like he told the New York Times. “I can’t believe that all this is happening,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’m 90.”