NEW YORK - Jazz was born more than a century ago in America’s black communities, and evolved over the decades into an inclusive form of music, incorporating and enriching the sounds of immigrant cultures and the country’s changing society. The U.S. Congress declared jazz ‘a rare and valuable national treasure’ in 1987. While many rock and soul singers incorporate jazz rhythms and sounds into their music, a pop superstar and one of the legends of jazz and popular music have brought the two worlds together on a new album of duets and solos.
This is not the first time that Lady Gaga and legendary crooner Tony Bennett have made music together. The pair collaborated on “The Lady Is Tramp” for his previous duets album, which won a Grammy.
But the two decided to team up for a full album of standards. And Bennett says Lady Gaga’s up to the challenge.
"She is actually a very authentic jazz singer," he said. "She will turn a phrase, she will make it different, because of the moment that she is singing. And so, what happens is it keeps the songs alive; the interpretations become very intimate and everlasting."
Like Bennett, Lady Gaga was born in New York City. And she has actually been singing jazz since she was a kid. But she is, of course, best known for her pop songs and her over-the-top stage shows, which draw sell-out crowds around the world. So, why did she decide to record with Tony Bennett?
"He has brought out a subtlety in me that I have missed for a while, because my life is very noisy."
Her records have become increasingly crowded, notes New Yorker pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones. "Not with noise, just sort of noisy with information that I do not understand what is going on exactly."
This record is different, he adds, wide-open, fairly natural. Frere-Jones points out that Lady Gaga is more than pop spectacle; she can really play piano and sing. "I do not know what the world will make of it, but it’s actually pretty good!"
An educational experience
For her part, Lady Gaga says working with the 88-year-old Bennett has been a real education.
"I love watching Tony perform: I always sit in the theater and watch when he is performing without me, with his quartet."
Tony Bennett hopes the learning experience extends to Lady Gaga’s audience.
He told her, "It is the first time that young people that love you so much will fall in love with George Gershwin ... with Cole Porter ... with Irving Berlin ..."
She responded that many of her fans already know some of those songs. "And they are sort of getting more and more and more excited and it is becoming cooler for them to talk about who wrote what. Tony is really opening up a whole new generation."
"I feel very validated by this," she said. "You know, he has given my fans a gift, by saying to them that he likes the way I sing jazz."
They also seem to genuinely like each other. They will be on stage singing together in a televised concert in October, and in case any of Lady Gaga’s fans are curious about who wrote what, Bennett promises there will be visuals, identifying the songwriters, at the start of every song.