News Column

Tony Bennett at 86: Singing Strong With Latino Stars, Gaga

Oct. 29, 2012

Barbara Munker

At the advanced age of 86, Tony Bennett is unstoppable.

The jazz and pop favourite, who rose to fame in 1962 with the melodic I Left My Heart in San Francisco, recently brought out his third duet album, Viva Duets, a cooperation with Latino stars.

Bennett is also laying the groundwork for another album with Lady Gaga, 60 years his junior and a cultural icon in her own right.

His two previous duet albums included one in 2006, with the Dixie Chicks and Paul McCartney, which won three Grammys.

In 2011, Duets II included Lady Gaga, Natalie Cole, Queen Latifah, Norah Jones and Andrea Bocelli. His duet with Amy Winehouse, "Body and Soul," which is also on the album, was recorded just months before her death and received a Grammy for the best single duet.

Duets II rose to the top of the US Billboard Charts, making Bennett the oldest artist ever to produce a number-one album. In his 60-year career, he has sold 30 million albums.

Viva Duets includes Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan, Christina Aguilera, Chayanne, Vicentico and Vicente Fernandez. To prepare for the album, Bennett visited Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Spain. Bennett says the singers brought Latino accents to some of his English hits such as Rags to Riches, For Once in My Life and The Best Is Yet to Come.

"Everybody put their soul and their melody and harmony into my songs," Bennett told dpa.

Bennett recorded Return To Me with Mexico's Ranchera singer Vicente Fernandez, on the 72-year-old's ranch in Guadalajara.

"I learned what to leave out, not what to do. Less is more, that's what I like about the album with the Spanish singers," the grey-haired Bennett told dpa.

Bennett keeps fit by exercising three times a week and walking a lot. He described his third wife, Susan Crow, as a "wonderful cook" who looks after his health.

In his spare time Bennett draws upon his many travels for yet another artistic endeavour.

"When I don't sing, I paint," Bennett said. "It's exciting to paint in every country, to see different landscapes and different buildings. So I stay busy all the time."

In his interview with dpa, Bennett talked about his newest work, his plans for a Lady Gaga album and other endeavours.

DPA: You recorded your newest duet album, Viva Duets, with Latino stars. What did you find particularly interesting about working with them?

BENNETT: There are all these Spanish singers that are very famous and the most popular and talented artists in their countries. I like their music because it is melody and harmony and you can understand the songs. This is not just a quick gimmick that is quickly forgotten. This is music with a lot of feeling and soul that will last forever. Unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish but I would sing a song that I made famous in English, and they would beautifully sing along in their language.

DPA: In your popular Duets II, you worked with a number of artists including Lady Gaga. Are you now planning an entire album with her?

BENNETT: Lady Gaga is phenomenal. The first time we worked together she told all her fans that she was doing an album with me. And they said, "Who is Tony Bennett?" They never heard of Tony Bennett and now they are big fans of mine. They will like the fact that now she wants me to do a jazz album with her. It will be very interesting because people know Lady Gaga as a performer, but they don't realize what a wonderful singer she is. And with this album we are about to do, we will show it (to) everybody.

DPA: You performed in August at the Admiralpalast in Berlin. Why do you perform so seldom in Germany?

BENNETT: It was the first time I performed in Germany in many years and I had such a great unforgettable experience. The audience was so wonderful to me that I can't wait to perform there again. I was there many years ago with (jazz pianist) Count Basie, but my record company always had me singing in English-speaking countries like Britain, Australia, Canada and of course the US. Maybe every two years now I will come back and sing in Germany. I will (try to find) a German musician to sing a duet with.

DPA: It doesn't sound like you have any plans to retire soon.

BENNETT: I would like to prove that the older you get the better you can get. I am not going to retire from singing ever because I have a lot to learn yet. It's funny, I am 86 years old, but believe me when I tell you I have a lot to learn. I study every day and I keep trying to learn as much as I can.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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