This article was originally published by FYIMusicNews.

It’s heartbreaking anytime news comes revealing one of our heroes is being robbed of their gifts.

That our beloved Tony Bennett has been battling Alzheimer’s disease since 2016, and at age 94 is growing distant and further inward, is in line with the tragic consequences of our daily lives and fatigue of combating COVID-19.

In 1993, I conducted a marvellous interview with Tony Bennett, one I would repeat to my vocal students for years. I found him forthcoming and informative. It wasn’t a pop star mishmash of gibberish, but a revealing conversation about art at its highest level.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to photograph him in concert at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at the Place des Arts in Montreal. Going in, I knew this would be a battle zone. The money shooters would be there, so my strategy was arriving early, staking a position and holding firm. Both sides of the stage were flanked by 300mm to 400mm lenses. Even a couple of point-and-shoots jostled for visual territory.

The stage was a shooter’s delight — stark, with no microphone stands, music stand or gallery of musicians. In fact, the players were situated far enough back to allow Bennett space to jog half a mile if he chose. It didn’t matter which side the photographers positioned themselves; the man would stroll there in a matter of seconds.

The show opened with Bennett’s daughter, Antonia, who, for her part, gave a fair reading of the material. Yet it sent a wave of fear through our photographers’ minds — would her father’s performance time be cut short?

Bennett arrived and kissed and embraced his daughter. It was monumental. Light shone on the man like a ray of gracious sunshine. Every detail, from shoeshine to that broad, loving smile, could be recorded. And the voice, my goodness, what a voice! It yanks at the nervous system and toys with the soul. Bennett then walked toward us, hands held high, paused, smiled, then released a big, earth-cracking note. Shutters fired — click, click — again and again.

This shoot was easy. The music poured out in large waves, flooding the room with warmth and vitality. I love this man.

I observed how Bennett commanded every inch of the stage — a slow walk to the right, a turn, a small hand gesture, a slow turn, then his eyes rise upward, glistening in the spotlights. As if on camera cue, he returns, as if he had read our minds.

The third song was a ballad. By now I was exhausted — not from the number of spent frames, but from the emotional intensity Bennett compressed into every song. I mostly stood, humbly watching. After an abbreviated solo, I witnessed the veins in his neck gather. The face looked muscular, like a weightlifter squeezing a world record from one last lift. His voice then rose to bone-crushing intensity. Suddenly I felt a rivulet of tears down my face. Shaking my head, I wiped the moisture aside. The note eventually lifted, leaving the audience screaming approval. Meanwhile, the other lens jockeys headed toward the exit, loaded with plenty of images. I felt a bit embarrassed, as though I had folded under pressure. Then I saw my partner Kristine clutching a Kleenex, gently dabbing her eyes.

At 94, Bennett is just as vital and compelling an artist as any crossing the big stage. Here’s our memorable conversation.