Terran Warden, Guest Writer
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, the last musical duo anyone could have predicted, released their duet jazz album “Cheek to Cheek” Sept. 23. The biggest surprise of the album, shockingly, isn’t the 60-year age difference or Gaga’s complete switch in music genres — it’s that the album is magnificent.
Tony Bennett, born August 1926, is a famous American jazz and pop standards singer, made famous by his 20 No. 1 singles in the 1950s including “Because of You” in 1951 and “Rags and Riches” in 1953. Along with his 76-disc career, Bennett has sold over 50 million records and received 17 Grammy Awards throughout his nearly 70 years in the business.
Lady Gaga, on the other hand, is a pop superstar made famous by the critical and commercial success of her debut album, The Fame, in 2008. Gaga has sold an estimated 27 million albums and earned 5 Grammy Awards.
But when Bennett, the legendary 88-year-old crooner, met Gaga at the Robin Hood Foundation Benefit Gala in 2011, he knew immediately he wanted to work with her. As the story goes, told by Gaga, Bennett watched her performance of Orange Colored Sky, a Natalie Cole jazz song, then met her backstage and asked to make an album together.
Later, in 2011, the two paired up for a rendition of “The Lady Is A Tramp” for his “Duets 2” album. While “The Lady Is A Tramp” was a hit song, nobody could have guessed a year ago that Gaga would release a full jazz album.
The first track of “Cheek to Cheek,” “Anything Goes,” seems to be this album’s theme. The two jump around from love ballads with “But Beautiful,” to uppity swing songs with “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” and even classic jazz standards given a modern twist with tracks like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”
Bennett delivers, as usual, on solos like Don’t Wait Too Long, and despite his age, Bennett is surprisingly vibrant on the album. Shockingly, the musical genre switch for Gaga proves to be a perfect match.
Gaga proves to listeners that she is a true musician, delivering powerful renditions of songs like “Lush Life.” She said she has been singing jazz since she was 13 years old, and her experience shows.
The album was recorded with the Bennett Quartet and Gaga’s lifelong friend Brian Newman playing live in the studio, as each track is a live recording all sang in one take.
Although the album is marvelous, it isn’t perfect. Tracks like “Firefly” and “Goody Goody” leave most listeners disappointed, especially when bookended by killer tracks like “I Won’t Dance” and “Lush Life.”
Despite the less-than-fabulous tracks on the album, it works as a way of liberating Gaga from the larger-than-life image she has put on since her debut. Gaga also gives audiences a look into her vulnerable side that is rarely seen.
Gaga and Bennett have created a timeless classic with this album, and brought younger audiences to songs of universal appeal as they had hoped.
The duo has had four number one singles on the Billboard Charts from this album. The album also hit number one on the Billboard Top 200 Chart, the Billboard Jazz Chart and the Billboard Traditional Jazz Chart on Oct. 1, selling 131,000 copies in its first week.
By scoring the No. 1 spot, Bennett broke his personal record of oldest living artist to debut at No. 1, and Gaga achieved her third No. 1 album making her the first female solo artist to have three No.1 albums in the US this decade. The two are already in the works for a follow up jazz album.
Together the odd duo has created a timeless classic with this album, and brought younger audiences to songs of universal appeal as they had hoped. Despite the several lackluster tracks on the album, the incredible tracks on the album shine through and leave listeners of all ages impressed.