When Tony Bennett hears the opening notes of a familiar song, he still knows what to do.
Let someone start believing in you…
Steady on his feet, he takes his place alongside the piano.
Let him hold out his hand…
His smile grows wide; his gaze meets the eyes of those assembled around him.
Let him find you…
He knows the key, the tempo, the lyrics.
And watch what happens.
What happens next is nothing short of remarkable.
“HIS BRAIN HAS PRETTY MUCH BUILT ITSELF AROUND HIS MUSIC”
As Anderson Cooper reported on 60 Minutes, music legend Tony Bennett is in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease.
On any given day, the 95-year-old may forget a lot about his past life.
He likely won’t recall the stories behind the photos that fill his New York City apartment, not the ones with Frank Sinatra or Rosemary Clooney, not even the one with Bob Hope
— the man who gave Anthony Dominick Benedetto his new stage name: Tony Bennett.
But when Bennett hears that music, the soundtrack that has accompanied more than seven decades of American life, the singer that millions have come to know, returns.
When Cooper and the 60 Minutes crew arrived at Bennet’s New York City apartment this summer, they witnessed the metamorphosis in real-time.
Bennett was rehearsing for his final big performance: two sold-out nights at Radio City Music Hall in August.
He would be performing with his friend and collaborator, Lady Gaga.
When it came to an interview, Bennett’s wife, Susan, had to do most of the talking.
She is grateful, she told Cooper, that her husband still recognizes her and knows his children.
He maintains a genial demeanor and a fondness for the memories he does have, especially those of his mother, Anna.
But he has trouble holding a conversation and remembering where he is.
That is, until his accompanist, Lee Musiker, began playing a few notes of “Watch What Happens,” a song Bennett has been singing since 1965.
He energetically walked out into the living room, gave a thumbs up to the cameras, and began singing.
“It was among the most extraordinary things I’d experienced on a shoot,” Cooper told 60 Minutes Overtime.
Bennett’s neurologist, Dr. Gayatri Devi, says the transformation goes beyond muscle memory.
For Bennett, music was more than what he does; it is who he is.
“That’s true of many great people, that they have an over-abiding passion that guides them and everything else is secondary,” Devi told Cooper.
“And for Tony, it’s always been music.
And so, it’s no wonder that his brain has pretty much built itself around his music.”
Because Bennett has spent seven decades singing for an audience, his ability to perform and his musical memory has become hard wired in his brain, Devi explained.
And music is itself a great stimulator for the brain.
It engages multiple sections of the brain, from the visual system and auditory cortex to the part of the brain that deals with movement and dance.
Music also taps into the part of the brain that deals with emotion.
“We all remember emotional memories far more than we do other types of memories,” Devi said.
“Memories that are imbued with emotion—they’re kind of pickled in it, as it were.”
“THERE IS A WAY TO TOUCH THE MAGIC INSIDE”