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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
February 14, 2012 was proclaimed "Tony Bennett's Valentine Day" by San Francisco's Mayor, Ed Lee. More than a thousand people filled City Hall for a celebration of the man responsible for popularizing "I Left My Heart In San Francisco."
The song was premiered by Bennett in San Francisco on stage at The Venetian Room inside The Fairmont Hotel, high atop Nob Hill during an extended engagement there in December 1961. His pianist, Ralph Sharon, was responsible for getting the song in the band book. The New York songwriters, George Cory and Douglass Cross, were friends of Sharon's and had given him the song some time in 1960. Knowing San Francisco was on the tour itinerary, Sharon took it along with him and the rest is pretty much history.
Almost needless to say, the song hit big with crowds in San Francisco. Upon returning to New York in 1962, Bennett cut a version of the tune on January 23rd at the legendary 30th Street Studios for Columbia Records. While it initially only appeared as the B-side of his "One Upon a Time" single, released on February 2, 1962, its immediate popularity and success resulted in it being chosen as the title track of Bennett's next LP released in the Summer of 1962. Bennett later claimed that he first performed the song on television on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. Bennett was a guest on Carson's first show as host, broadcast on October 1, 1962, but it is unclear if this is the appearance Tony referred to.
Bennett has returned to The Venetian Room a few times over the years to celebrate the song. February 14, 2012 was one such occasion. Tickets were $5,000 to benefit the University of San Francisco's Department of Cardiology. I was not in attendance.
Enjoy the clip at the top of this post, as the 85-year old vocalist leads his band through a soundcheck performance of the classic. One can't help but think this will be the last time the walls of the Venetian Room will see something quite like this...