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