More than 100 GW students, families and D.C. residents packed the hallway outside the WRGW radio studio in the Marvin Center basement Sunday morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of legendary vocalist Tony Bennett.
Bennett, 75, was a guest at GW’s radio station on the “Capital Jazz Show,” a weekly program of music and conversation regularly broadcast Sundays at 11 a.m. on AM-1260 WRC.
The WRGW studio was filled with staff members, photographers and reporters buzzing around Bennett and radio show host Dick Golden during the show. Bennett sat smiling in front of the microphone, his hair mostly grayed, sporting a dark suit and elegant gold-rimmed glasses in his first trip back to GW since his Commencement speech in June.
While the crowd outside the studio thinned out to about half the size by noon, there were still about 50 people, carrying Tony Bennett CDs, cameras and plates of cake and croissants hoping to get an autograph or snap a photo next to Bennett.
“You don’t normally see this many young people out on a Sunday to listen to jazz,” graduate student Michelle Sobers said. “I mean, it’s not like the line for Starbucks or something. It’s really good to see this kind of interest.”
Onlookers got to hear Bennett sing a brief “Happy Birthday” to Golden. Bennett spent most of the show laughing and chatting with his good friend Golden, while listening to jazz tracks and discussing the genius of jazz pianist Duke Ellington.
“No matter where I go in the world,” Bennett said. “I walk into a good restaurant – there’s either a tree or a grand piano – and no matter what, they are always playing Duke Ellington.”
The Duke Ellington School of the Arts is one of the jazz show’s co-sponsors. GW produces the show, in association with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Associates and ClearChannel Communications.
Some GW students were able to get close to Bennett.
Sophomore Dave Shapanka, a music and voice major, had the rare treat of singing in the studio in front of Bennett. Shapanka was selected by Music Department faculty for the honor as he sang “Everyday I Have the Blues,” a song made famous by the Count Basie Orchestra and vocalist Joe Williams, while GW jazz guitar teacher John Albertson accompanied him.
“Before, I was just nervous about performing for one of my idols,” Shapanka said. “It was an honor that I got to sing in front of him. I had to sing in front of the man who does what I was trying to do and does it the best.”
As the show came to a close after two hours, about 20 people crowded around the door to get their long-awaited autographs and pictures. The group contained mostly students.
During the show, there was talk of the great turnout of young people to meet Bennett and listen to jazz.
“This generation has lived through harshness and violence,” Golden said. “Maybe it’s better to be beautiful, maybe it’s better to be sweet, and that is what Tony represents.”