Oc­to­ge­nar­ian Tony Ben­nett must surely hold the world ti­tle as the come­back king, writes Cameron Adams

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Go­ing Gaga and lov­ing it.

WHEN a 25- year- old woman is naked in front of a man 60 years her se­nior, you’d gen­er­ally pre­sume some­thing not quite right is go­ing on.

But when she’s Lady Gaga and he’s Tony Ben­nett, it’s all in the name of art.

Ben­nett, who has long bal­anced paint­ing ( un­der his real name Tony Benedetto) with his iconic singing ca­reer, sketched Gaga – sans cloth­ing – last year.

The char­coal sketch was done while Gaga was pos­ing for Van­ity Fair and pho­tog­ra­pher An­nie Liebowitz.

‘‘ I felt shy and thought, ‘ It’s Tony Ben­nett, why am I naked?’,’’ Gaga mused at the time.

Ben­nett, who’s just an­nounced plans to tour Australia in April, had no such qualms.

‘‘ She was beau­ti­ful. She did a great job,’’ he says, as ever in gentleman mode.

Ben­nett’s Duets II al­bum, last year’s com­pan­ion piece to the 2006 orig­i­nal, has cast Gaga in a new light.

Their play­ful read­ing of The Lady is a Tramp re­veals a hith­erto hid­den jazz side to Gaga’s vo­cal arse­nal.

Ben­nett didn’t even flinch when she ar­rived with a turquoise rinse in her hair, and says she could well be­come Amer­ica’s an­swer to Pi­casso.

‘‘ She’s un­pre­dictable, I tell you, there’s no one like her,’’ Ben­nett says.

‘‘ She’s very dif­fer­ent, but she’s a very tal­ented per­son. And a beau­ti­ful singer.

‘‘ She’s such a sweet lit­tle an­gel. When all is said and done, I met her with her mother and fa­ther and she’s a sweet lit­tle Ital­ianAmer­i­can girl.

‘‘ But when she gets on that stage, look out. She’s ready to per­form, boy.’’

For­get the meat dress and shock frocks – Ben­nett busts an­other Gaga myth from their record­ing ses­sion.

‘‘ She went around to the whole crew of peo­ple that the public never sees – the cam­era­men, sound men, all that – and she po­litely thanked each and ev­ery one of them for be­ing so nice to her. It was so pro­fes­sional.

‘‘ I thought, ‘ Boy, this gal’s go­ing to be around a long time’. She learnt that from go­ing to school in NYU. And the public adores her. Oh my God, I never saw an au­di­ence re­act to any­body like they re­act to her.’’

The brain­child of his son and man­ager Danny, Duets con­tin­ues to in­tro­duce Ben­nett to a new au­di­ence, a trick Danny pulled off pre­vi­ously by rein­vent­ing his fa­ther’s dwin­dling ca­reer with an MTV Un­plugged ses­sion in 1994.

This time around the likes of Michael Bu­ble, Josh Groban, John Mayer, Car­rie Un­der­wood, Mariah Carey and k. d. lang were along for the ride, join­ing

I felt shy and thought, ‘ It’s Tony Ben­nett, why am I naked?’, Gaga mused at the time

Ben­nett on old- school read­ings of old- school clas­sics.

Duets II houses the final record­ing by Amy Wine­house, Body and Soul.

Ben­nett flew to London to sing with Wine­house at Abbey Road stu­dios.

‘‘ That was some­thing spe­cial. She showed up com­pletely sober and she and her boyfriend and her fa­ther were all big fans,’’ Ben­nett says. ‘‘ They were just won­der­ful to us. ‘‘ I wanted to tell her to just slow down with the drugs . . . I never got a chance to do it, we had to get back to the States.

‘‘ It was re­gret­ful to find out a month later that she died.’’

Ben­nett is more in­formed than most to of­fer such ad­vice. Dur­ing a ca­reer slump in the ’ 70s, he de­vel­oped a rag­ing co­caine habit and nearly over­dosed in 1979.

‘‘ I learnt to stop,’’ he says. ‘‘ That was the best thing that ever hap­pened to me.

‘‘ I wouldn’t have been here now if I kept that up.’’

This year, as well as tour­ing Australia for a third time, Ben­nett is about to record a ver­sion of Duets for the Span­ish mar­ket and is still hop­ing to record an al­bum with Ste­vie Won­der, some­thing they’ve both planned for decades. ‘‘ Even­tu­ally it’ll hap­pen. I don’t know when, we’ve been wait­ing to do that for a long time.’’

Ben­nett will turn 86 in Au­gust, but loathes the thought of re­tire­ment.

‘‘ I’m do­ing the two things I love – mu­sic and paint­ing. It doesn’t feel like work for me, it feels in­spir­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘ I’ve just started study­ing sculp­ture and mu­sic. I still have a lot to learn yet.’’


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