Tony Bennett’s daughter Antonia plays DC’s Blues Alley where she once found a ‘jazz cat’

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Antonia Bennett at Blues Alley (Part 1)

The phrase “jazz cat” usually describes an agile musician, but the purr is real in the nation’s capital.

Antonia Bennett once found a stray feline wandering outside of the historic Blues Alley in the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C., which was hosting a concert by her legendary father, Tony Bennett, in the early 1980s.

“I’ve been going to Blues Alley my whole life,” Bennett told WTOP. “My dad played Blues Alley when I was a kid. Amazingly enough, the first time I was there I found a cat in the alley in Blues Alley, so I actually literally found a jazz cat! We found someone to adopt the cat, so it was really cute. I think she was a regular patron of Blues Alley.”

That night, her father reportedly opened with “Rags to Riches” and crooned “Fly Me To The Moon” in a night of American standards, the likes of which Antonia will sing live at Blues Alley for four shows this Friday and Saturday.

“I think it would be impossible to do the American Songbook without doing something that my dad recorded, but everything is really my own version,” Bennett said. “I do have a couple of originals that I will be throwing in there as well. I haven’t actually created the set list yet, but probably ‘Teach Me Tonight’ or ‘From This Moment On.’ I love Cole Porter and George Gershwin, so you’ll probably hear a lot of that in my show.”

Born in New York in 1974, Bennett grew up in Los Angeles a decade after her father left his heart in San Francisco. At a very young age, she shared the stage with the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Count Basie, Regis Philbin and Don Rickles, while Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Gene Kelly were her mentors.

“My dad would bring me out on the road ever since I could walk and talk,” Bennett said. “I grew up listening to a lot of different things, not just singers, but musicians as well. I loved musical theater as well, so I was watching a lot of shows like ‘Oklahoma!’ We had a lot of scores in our house, so I would have like the actual score and I would just memorize all the songs from a musical and walk around the house singing them. That’s how I got my start.”

Her love of musical theater inspired her to study acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York City before graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston. In the mid-2000s, she began appearing at her father’s shows, opening for him at Radio City Music Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Umbria Jazz Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival, The Greek Theatre, Royal Albert Hall in London and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“Honestly, it was very special to be able to play those places and also just be in an environment where everything was taken care of,” Bennett said. “We had a great sound man with us and we always stayed in very nice hotels, so really I got to tour under the best circumstances, which was amazing because life on the road can be a grind, so doing it like that is very special to be able to travel with your family and be together.”

She also traveled to D.C. with her father when he was saluted at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2005 and the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2017. In between, she was featured on her father’s acclaimed holiday album “A Swingin’ Christmas” (2008), singing a duet of Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” The festive album earned a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

“I just got a call a few days before saying, ‘Will you do this duet with me?'” Bennett said. “I went into the studio and we did it and that was that. It was a kind of fast thing that we threw together. It’s great that we got to do that and sing together. It was very meaningful to be able to have a duet with my dad that was recorded, because sometimes we would do it in live shows but we had never actually recorded anything until that point.”

Speaking of recordings, she recorded her own original EP called “Natural” in 2010, followed by her debut full-length album “Embrace Me” in 2014, and another original album “Ordinary Girl” in 2017.

“When I did the ‘Embrace Me’ record, that kind of came off the cuff,” Bennett said. “I had been working with these guys in New York and my brother had some studio time for me available … he’s a Grammy-winning recording engineer, Dae Bennett. I was thinking of calling it ‘Embraceable You’ because that was one of the tracks on there, but then my dad said, ‘You should call it ‘Embrace You’ because that’s what you want the people to do.'”

And embrace her they did as Jazz Times wrote: “Liza Minnelli. Natalie Cole. Norah Jones. Now, Antonia Bennett can be added to the list of second-generation vocalists with the potential to rival an iconic parent’s pizazz.”

They forgot one important accolade: finder of lost cats.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Antonia Bennett at Blues Alley

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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