Posted on 23 October 2014.
by Dino Thompson-Sarmiento
Two musical generations collide like two stars in the universe and the explosion of fierceness is a masterpiece called Cheek to Cheek …Bennett and Gaga singing together is something that never crossed my mind but the results are simply fantastic – Enjoy our Q&A with these two
powerhouse voices that will be heard for generations to come.
Can you tell me what Cheek To Cheek means to you?
Tony Bennett: Cheek To Cheek means performing with the best kind entertainer in the world today. That’s what I call Cheek To Cheek.
Lady Gaga: I’ve been telling everybody Cheek To Cheek is where I like to be when I’m with Tony—right up against him. That’s what it is for me.
Tony, can you tell us about your first meeting with Lady Gaga?
TB: Yeah, we did a big benefit for lawyers and accountants. Everyone in those professions were at this one, great benefit for the poor people of New York, and that’s when I first heard her perform. I couldn’t believe the audience’s reaction to her, and we met backstage with her mother and father. We just hit it off. Right from that moment on, we’ve been great, great friends.
Gaga, were you nervous about the idea of doing an album project with legend Tony Bennett?
LG: Well, I was more nervous to meet Tony. When they said he wanted to talk to me at The Robin Hood Foundation event, I said “Are you sure? You’re sure he’s talking about me?” I went back to see him, and I brought my father and my mother with me—they were so excited. My mom was squeezing my hand—she was as nervous as I was! We got to meet him, and you know instantly when you’re with Tony. He makes you feel so at ease because he’s so humble. He’s had such an incredible career, and he continues to make so many people around the world so happy. It was just a wonderful night to meet him. When he asked me about doing the album, I thought, “Of course!” In fact, it was so interesting to me, I thought, “Oh wow, he can really hear that I’m a jazz singer.” That meant a lot to me because nobody had really caught on yet, and jazz was my first love before pop music. That’s really where I started singing and how I got into music—singing with the jazz choir at school. I wasn’t as nervous to make the album because I felt like the music is already a part of me—working with Tony made me nervous! I thought, “Okay I have to learn something. I have to really dig deep for this album.” He really let me be me, and he encouraged me to allow the songs that we chose to be the stories of my life and the stories of his. Then we came together, Cheek To Cheek.
Can you explain how you created the song selection for this album?
TB: I wanted to make sure that the songs we did would last forever—that they were the best songs that were ever written. I was so happy to do it with Gaga because she is a great singer.
LG: We worked very closely with Tony’s entire family and my team. All of the songs are from The Great American Songbook, which for Tony and myself, are the greatest songs that were ever written. On the album we have George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn. Records that never get old. It’s our job to come together and tell the stories as if they’re brand new.
Gaga, for “Lush Life” you talked about how you first sang the song when you were thirteen, and now over ten years later you’re singing it again. Explain the evolution of that song—singing it back then and now?
LG: I had a musical director, Mister Phillips, at the Boy’s School St. Regis down the street, and he believed in me so much when I was growing up. It meant a lot. He used to always bring the most vocally challenging songs to me. One day he brought me “Lush Life,” and I didn’t really understand what the song was about, but the melody spoke to me. I’ve always had a sort of old soul, or old attraction to music—music with a lot of feeling. Music with pain deep, deep down in the notes. She’s singing about the loss of love in her life—her loneliness. She’s singing about living a lush life—a life of alcohol and drugs and uncertainty. When I was younger, I didn’t really know what that meant. Now that I’m here, after my life’s changed so much since the first time I sang that record, I just started crying. I walked in the studio and said, “Tony this is really autobiographical for me,” and he said, “I know.” He hugged me, and he’s such a real friend to me—that’s what you’ll hear on this album. You’ll hear a real experience between two people singing records. We weren’t just trying to sing it perfectly. You’re not dealing with two people that really like autotune very much—especially for jazz. We wanted to make something that sounded perfect because of the quality of the emotion, the honesty. I loved making “Lush Life” for this album, and I appreciated that Tony mentored me emotionally through the process.
Tony, you chose to sing “Sophisticated Lady” as a solo song on this album. Why did you do that?
TB: Well, I did it to answer her on “Lush Life.” I decided to do one of Duke’s songs, and one of my favorites of all time is “Sophisticated Lady.” That’s how I feel about her. She’s highly sophisticated.
LG: That’s so sweet. On “Lush Life” I’m singing about how I feel like a mess. I’m singing about how I feel hopeless—how I feel like I’m not worth anything. Then I have him telling me, “No, no, baby you’re sophisticated. You got it all, you’re okay.” That’s where the balance of the album comes from. We support one another not just in the way we’re singing, but in life.
Tony, I know throughout your career you’ve always made sure you could keep jazz in your music, and at times it was a struggle with record labels and such. Can you talk a little bit about why that was so important to you?
TB: What I really love about being a jazz singer is that it’s unlike any other singer. All of the jazz artists are very, very creative and very honest. It allows you to sing differently every night. You surround yourself with great jazz musicians who play because of the atmosphere at that moment. it’s not like you’re singing the same song every night. The repertoire might be the same song, but with jazz—and good jazz artists—you sing differently every night because every hall has different acoustics and different audiences. You turn it around, and it becomes each night like the first time you’re doing the song—it’s the moment. There’s honesty about it. It keeps you very, very honest as a performer. You’re not cheating the audience for a second because you’re giving it 100%. I don’t mean vocally—I’m talking about the musicians when they play they’re giving one hundred and fifty percent of themselves at that moment, what they’ve felt at that moment, at that second.
TB: And to me, it’s terribly exciting to perform that way. You never get bored.
Tony, I know you paint every day and in the recording studio you’re drawing a lot. Does drawing during the down time of the studio process keep you in a creative mode?
TB: The way you paint is just like when you take a solo or a chorus of a song. It’s learning what to leave out, what to put in, what to really put the accent on. You make a composition of some sort and you do that with painting—and you do that with music.
LG: And that’s what jazz is like.
TB: You learn what to leave out. You know what to put in when it’s important. The music teaches you how to draw, and the drawing and painting teach you how to sing.
Speaking of drawing, Gaga you asked Tony to draw a trumpet for you, can you explain what that was all about?
LG: We drew Miles Davis’ trumpet. He was the greatest trumpet player of all time. When we were hanging out yesterday I said, “Hey Tony, would you sketch a trumpet for me to represent our work together and would you sign it? I’m going to get it tattooed.” Then Newman said, “Hey you’re getting a trumpet, what do you mean? I have to get a trumpet!” So we went to the tattoo parlor, and I played the record for him for the first time. He got to hear his trumpet playing with Tony Bennett for the first time while he was getting this trumpet inked, and he was crying he was so happy—it was so special.
TB: They’re great guys. You have a great group of musicians. They love you so much.
LG: They love you so much. They’re so happy because they are the jazz kids right now in the scene in New York trying to get noticed, trying to make it, playing as many gigs as they can. To get noticed by Tony Bennett is the biggest thing that has ever happened to them. Every time we sing the song, it’s not like we already know what we’re going to do—like you were saying—it’s almost like every time it’s a blank canvas, and we each have a paint brush.
Your photo session with Steven Klein seems like he was telling a story, maybe about jazz. Can you talk a little bit about what you wanted to achieve in the photos?
LG: I think our collaboration with Steven Klein has been immense and really beautiful. It’s interesting—we didn’t really go into the shoot trying to tell any type of story in particular. We just wanted to capture a very honest moment between me and Tony. We shot at this burlesque club downtown. To be down there with friends and Tony while Steven captured it all was just really natural. Something so mysterious and beautiful came out of it. I really love that about me and Tony as there’s something that’s still mysterious about us singing together because it seems like we wouldn’t go together—yet, we have everything in common. Everybody loves Tony. Everywhere that we go, women are falling all over the place. They can’t take it, and that’s how I feel most of the time. I mean he makes me so nervous.
You both thrilled about 700 students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. How important is it to encourage young people to keep the arts in their lives regardless of whether they go off to be an artist or not?
TB: There’s nothing like it. My wife and I have visited seventeen schools since we’ve started now, and right now she’s in San Francisco. We’re getting great reports that they want to put the Tony Bennett schools in every public school for performing arts. To visit those schools and see what those artists are doing, you cannot believe it. You can’t believe what I witness walking into a school to find out that they’re as good as anything that’s on Broadway right now. They should actually get the job immediately. That’s how equipped they are. They learn how to read music, and they get so good that some of the performances that I witness are better than anything I’ve seen on any stage in the world. It’s wonderful. And then when they go to college—because they’re giving and creating, they don’t drop out of school, they stay in school and they graduate. The whole dream we have about this is to have more artists in the United States than anywhere else in the world because the whole premise of art is truth and beauty. By bringing that to the whole world, we will become loved. America will become so loved because they know all that truth and beauty is coming from America to the rest of the world.
And if you could talk a little bit about your experience at the school Gaga…
LG: That was so beautifully put Tony.
TB: Thank you.
LG: That really was. What Tony is doing for education with his wife is really powerful, and I’ve had a really strong relationship with my fans ever since the beginning of my career. That was because I always impressed upon them—and even until now with my last album—that your creativity and your voice is so important. What’s important is that we expose young kids to their passion. If they have it—if there’s even a glimmer of passion for the arts—you’re going to save that kid so much strife and heartbreak in their life because so many kids end up doing bad things and going down the wrong path in life because they don’t have the resources to express themselves. They don’t have the resources to express what for many young artists is that tortured spirit. I love so much that he’s giving everybody that opportunity,
and I hope that you know through my music and with Tony I can continue to support young people in all of their endeavors—all of their creative moments—that’s what ARTPOP was all about. Is that your ARTPOP is your next artistic statement. It could be anything. To free yourself from all limitations and rules. Tony is breaking rules. He’s going into public schools, and he’s saying, “Let’s teach these kids about performing arts.”
I’m going to leave the end of the interview up to you guys—one last comment to talk about the experience. Do you want to start Gaga?
LG: I would love to tell everybody that I can, in the world how happy, truly purely happy I am to be here with Tony. It’s just totally changing my life, and it really has been so liberating. He’s such a good friend to me, and he’s so supportive of me as an artist and it means so much. A true, true gentleman and legend, and I can’t wait to share this moment in my life with my fans and with Tony’s fans.
TB: Great. I love it. Thank you.
LG: Thank you.
TB: It’s just beautiful being with you.