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Someone once asked Tony Bennett why he sings mostly old songs.

"Because I don't like the new ones," he replied.

So, on a cool Thursday night at Red Butte Garden headlined by perhaps the coolest 86-year-old entertainer on the planet, the Italian crooner who recorded his first hit in 1951 took an appreciative audience on a trip down memory lane.

Bennett, accompanied by his daughter, Antonia, and a crack four-piece jazz orchestra, proved that he can still hit the high notes and captivate an audience. The 22-song, 90-minute set included some of the world's most beloved songs.

Bennett, who said the late Bob Hope gave him his stage name, was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto. And it seems the legendary Italian crooner was born to sing.

As he prepares to record an album next week with Lady Gaga, the dapper Bennett ran through a series of classics before a decidedly older and polite Red Butte audience.

'What a beautiful place," he said as a near full moon provided a backdrop. "I love being in nature."

That brought him to tell a story about performing for President John F. Kennedy at the White House in the early 1960s with Dave Brubeck. Then he sang "Black Magic," a song he and the late jazz great performed over 50 years ago.

Judging by the way he captivated the audience, Bennett, who said he and Rosemary Clooney were the original American idols, must have some black magic in his veins.

His concert contained classics such as Hank Williams' "Cold,Cold Heart," Stephen Sondheim's "Old Friends," sung as a duet with his daughter, and a cover of Frank Sinatra's "Just in Time."

By the time Bennett sang his signature "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" 19 songs into his set, there was no doubt that age has done little to slow one of the last great crooners.

I liked some of the more upbeat songs such as "One for My Baby and One More for the Road," "When You're Smiling" and "For Once in My Life."

Part of the fun of the show involved listening to Bennett tell stories that came with almost every song.

There was, for example, the letter he received from Charlie Chaplin when he resurrected the song "Smile." Or "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which he introduced as his first hit. Or "Who Cares (So Long as You Care)," which was written in the Great Depression but seemed just as appropriate today.

One of the great things about Red Butte Garden's concert series is the variety of styles and music it provides each year.

This time, a legend graced the stage. And the appreciative audience seemed content to savor every last moment listening the voice of an American treasure that has hardly dimmed with age.

Twitter @tribtomwharton —

Tony Bennett

Where • Red Butte Garden

When • Thursday, June 20, 2013

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