Larry Busacca / Getty Images for NARAS
Ten years ago, jazz icon Tony Bennett and pop superstar Lady Gaga formed one of the greats Strange couple partnerships in recent music history. Sing together first on her album Duets II, then on their co-album, Cheek to cheek, Bennett and Gaga made chart history while proving that some things never go out of style.
Now with Love to sell, Bennett and Gaga are planning another tour, but with a poignant twist: it may be Bennet’s last album. He is 95 years old and lives with Alzheimer’s disease.
Nate Chinen, of WBGO and Jazz evening in Americarecently spoke with Lady Gaga about their collaboration.
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In Martinez, All things Considered: Nate, you’ve covered this relationship from the start. Were you surprised that it works?
Nate Chinen, WBGO: On some level, yes – pleasantly. There is a 60 years age difference between Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, and they obviously come from different sectors of the pop firmament. But he recognized her vocal talent right away, and she came with an attitude of genuine deference and humility – she wasn’t an amateur or a dilettante about it. They had an instant spark when they sang together, and it turned into a real collaboration.
I imagine that the two artists got something from their couple …
They each have something different. As she told me at the time, Lady Gaga was looking for some validation as a singer – and having Bennett’s blessing, so to speak, really put her in a different light. There is nowhere to hide, musically, when you sing in this style. And as for Tony Bennett: he was 88 when Cheek to cheek topped the charts in 2014, making him the oldest artist to score a No.1 album. According to Guinness, it’s a record he still holds.
Isn’t it this extraordinary success of the charts for all jazz album?
It is extremely rare. And that’s something both artists told me they wanted to achieve. Tony has dedicated his life to a celebration of the Great American Songbook and the art of jazz singing. Gaga’s sincere attraction to this tradition was something they hoped would resonate with her fan base. And as she told me recently, it does.
So, was it still clear that there would be a sequel?
According to Lady Gaga, they had barely finished Cheek to cheek when Tony started talking about a follow-up. And it was clear that this would be an album of Cole Porter songs.
Last year Tony Bennett announced he was living with Alzheimer’s disease. How did this affect the making of the album?
His team had to operate with great sensitivity to his condition. But Tony was first diagnosed in 2016, so it wasn’t a sudden thing. What’s really remarkable is the way he focuses when he sings. I recently spoke with his wife and caregiver, Susan Benedetto, who says he still sings at home with a pianist a few times a week. And whatever fog surrounds his daily life, it seems to dissipate when the music starts. Susan said this was even true during her farewell concert with Gaga at Radio City Music Hall just a few months ago.
Susan Benedetto: This was the last situation where Tony could still be Tony and have a real understanding of who he is. And that’s what I do, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. And I can connect with my audience. And just then he understood exactly what was going on. Now, before he sang, then when he left the stage, he didn’t necessarily know where he was or why he was there. And he couldn’t even tell you if he was singing or not. But then you can just say it: all the ways and the music, it all comes right back.
There is something so wonderful and mysterious about it.
And poetic, in the sense that Tony Bennett has invested a lot in this music during his 70 years of recording career. Now I think it’s fair to say that music gives back. And knowing that this is probably his last recorded statement, it’s beautiful and bittersweet. When I asked Lady Gaga about this, she had this to say.
Lady Gaga: When I think of Tony and his latest album, I have nothing but reverence, love and respect for him. I think I can still cry about it. I don’t think it will ever go away. And I don’t know if I want it. I think the pain lives where it belongs. And Tony has always inspired me to use it. So I will continue to use this magic in my life. And just share with you that even when hard things happen, you can witness a miracle. And watching Tony sing on stage was a real miracle for all of us. When he was fine and when he had Alzheimer’s disease.
The Music Miracle, courtesy of Tony Bennett – and Lady Gaga.