Will Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett Find Harmony With New Jazz Record?

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s long-anticipated album of jazz standards will finally be released this fall, the unlikely pair announced this week, along with a video for the first song, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” Bennett and Gaga first collaborated on his 2011 album Duets II, on which Gaga performed “The Lady Is a Tramp.” Bennett has been a vocal fan of the artsy pop star ever since, regularly singing her praises by comparing her to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald and sketching a nude picture of her.

Bennett spoke highly of Gaga to Rolling Stone after recording “Tramp,” saying that she “came in so prepared and so knowledgeable about what to do. She’s as good as Ella Fitzgerald or anybody you want to come up with. And that’s without her dancing and her philosophies about breaking myths that are incorrect and social situations. She’s very strong. I know it sounds way out, but she could become America’s Picasso if they leave her alone and let her just do what she has to do. She is very, very talented.”

The album, Cheek to Cheek, will be released on September 23. The record is composed entirely of jazz standards and is informed by close to two years’ worth of collaborations between the pair since Duets II, including performances at the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Ball, Gaga’s television special “A Very Gaga Thanksgiving,” and the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival. Songs on Cheek to Cheek include classic compositions by Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Billy Strayhorn.

The pair made the announcement on The Today Show after performing in New York at the Rose Theater in Lincoln Center to film their PBS special Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek Live!, which will air this fall after the release of the record. “I’ve been singing jazz since I was 13 years old, and Tony was the first person that knew that,” Gaga told Carson Daily on the Today Show. “She’s really, actually, a great jazz singer,” Bennett said to Today Show reporter Savannah Guthrie later on the show.

While a record of jazz standards sung with an 88-year-old crooner will never sell as many albums as Gaga’s multiplatinum pop records The Fame and Born This Way, it will give Gaga a chance to show off her actual vocal ability a bit more than her commercial pop music. Gaga is an accomplished singer and pianist, something she reveals in “acoustic” renditions of her pop songs during some live performances but is seen less often on record. Gaga’s bizarre outfits, outlandish music videos, and general wacky artistic vision frequently take the spotlight away from her musicianship.

Aside from her friendship with Bennett, the most Gaga stands to get out of this is some increased artistic credibility. A record of jazz standards is highly unlikely to make up for the low sales of her latest pop album, ARTPOP, which had a couple of No. 1 singles but underperformed in comparison with her previous efforts. Gaga’s target audience isn’t one that’s exactly eager to queue up an album full of Duke Ellington songs on Spotify, and the average audience for jazz is only getting older.

A 2009 survey from the National Endowment of the Arts on arts participation in the U.S. found that the average age of a person attending a jazz concert in 1982 was 29 years old, but in 2008 was 46 years old. Those results show that young people are not discovering jazz music as the existing audience for jazz continues to age. Not only that, but overall attendance of jazz related events fell 58 percent since 1982. That doesn’t exactly bode well for a Bennett-Gaga tour.

What’s in this for Bennett? The guy’s almost 90 years old. From the looks of it, the duo had a lot of fun recording the album, and he seems to think that Gaga is genuinely talented. Her involvement ensures a lot more publicity than a Bennett solo album would, and so from his standpoint this record will likely sell fairly well. Duets II, released in fall 2011, was one of his best-performing albums, making him the oldest living artist ever to appear at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and the first time he had done so himself. He performed with a wide variety of artists on that record, most notably with Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul,” the singer’s last known recording before her death.

Cheek to Cheek is a chance for Bennett to try and repeat similar success by working with a modern pop artist who he believes in. The material ensures that Gaga can’t get too weird, and if “Anything Goes” is any indication, then her voice sounds good singing those songs with Bennett. It might be a bit much to call her Ella Fitzgerald, but she’s all right. Point is, Bennett’s fans could listen to and enjoy the record with or without caring that Lady Gaga is the female singer on it.

The arrangement is mutually beneficial for both artists, with Bennett gaining album sales, publicity, and some exposure to a younger audience while Gaga gets to prove to the world that she is not only capable of donning a dress made of meat but is also a trained jazz singer.

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