RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A decade ago, jazz icon Tony Bennett and pop superstar Lady Gaga struck up one of the great odd couple partnerships in recent music history. Singing together first on his album "Duets II" and then on their co-album "Cheek To Cheek," they made history on the charts and proved some things never go out of style.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN")
TONY BENNETT: (Singing) I've got you under my skin. I've got you deep in the heart of me.
LADY GAGA: (Singing) You're so deep in my heart. You're really a part of me.
TONY BENNETT AND LADY GAGA: (Singing) I've got you...
LADY GAGA: Yes, I do.
BENNETT: (Singing) ...Under my skin.
MARTIN: Now with "Love For Sale," Bennett and Gaga are serving up another round with a twist of poignancy. This may be Bennett's final album. He is 95 years old and has been living with Alzheimer's. Nate Chinen from Jazz Night In America and member station WBGO recently talked with Lady Gaga about her collaboration with Tony Bennett. And Nate is here to talk with us about it.
NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: You have covered this relationship from the very beginning. Were you surprised that it worked so well?
CHINEN: Yeah. On one level, I was. You know, you think about the two of them; there's a 60-year age difference between them. And Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga clearly come from different sectors of the pop firmament.
CHINEN: But when he heard her sing, he recognized her vocal talent immediately. And she came to the project with an attitude of real deference and humility. You know, she wasn't a dabbler or a dilettante about jazz singing. She really wanted to get it right. So they had an instant spark. And through working together, it bloomed into a genuine collaboration.
MARTIN: And like all collaborations, I have to imagine each of them got something different from it. Right?
CHINEN: They did. As Lady Gaga told me back when they made "Cheek To Cheek," she was actively looking for a kind of validation as a singer. And having Tony Bennett's blessing, it really cast her in a different light. Singing in this style, there's nowhere to hide. You know? There's no effects. There's, you know, no bells and whistles. And, you know - and on Tony's part, he was 88 when "Cheek To Cheek" topped the charts in 2014. And that made him the oldest artist ever to score a No. 1 album. And according to the Guinness Book of World Records, that's one that he still holds.
MARTIN: Amazing. I mean, isn't that extraordinary chart success for any jazz album?
CHINEN: (Laughter) It's exceedingly rare. And you know, this is something both artists told me they wanted to achieve. Tony Bennett has devoted his life to a celebration of the Great American Songbook and the art of jazz singing. And Gaga's sincere attraction to that tradition was something they hoped would resonate with her fan base. And as she recently told me, it has.
LADY GAGA: I have seen so many young people fall in love with jazz music because Tony believed in me. I mean, he brought in a whole new generation to listen to the greatest music in America and experience it in a way where they had the wisdom of Tony Bennett and the drive of me.
MARTIN: So was it clear to them at the beginning that there would be a sequel?
CHINEN: I think it was. According to Lady Gaga, they had barely finished "Cheek To Cheek" when Tony started talking about a follow-up. And he was clear that it was going to be an album of songs by Cole Porter.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE THE TOP")
BENNETT: (Singing) You're the top. You're the Coliseum.
LADY GAGA: (Singing) You're the top. You're the Louvre Museum.
MARTIN: So last year, Tony Bennett announced he's been living with Alzheimer's. How did that affect the making of the album?
CHINEN: Well, his team had to operate with great sensitivity to his condition. But he was diagnosed back in 2016, so, you know, this wasn't a sudden thing.
CHINEN: What's really remarkable here is the way that he snaps into focus when he's singing. I recently spoke with his wife and caregiver, Susan Benedetto, who says he still sings at home with a pianist a couple times a week, sort of like a workout. And whatever fog exists around his everyday life, it seems to dispel when the music starts. Susan said this was even true at his farewell concert with Gaga at Radio City Music Hall for his birthday a couple months ago.
SUSAN BENEDETTO: It was the last situation in which Tony could still be Tony and have a true understanding of who he is and this is what I do and this is what I'm supposed to be doing, and I can connect with my audience. In that moment, he understood exactly what was going on. Now, prior to singing, and then when he gets offstage, he would not necessarily know where he was or why he was there, and he couldn't even tell you if he sang or not. But in that moment, you can just tell. The mannerisms and the music, everything - it just comes right back.
MARTIN: You know, I've heard that about other people for whom music was central to their lives. When they get in that space, then a clarity can exist. And it's a beautiful thing.
CHINEN: It's beautiful. I think it's sort of a miracle, you know? And it's so poetic in the sense that Tony Bennett has given so much of himself to this music over the course of his recording career, which stretches, you know, 70 years. And I think it's fair to say that at this point, the music is giving back. So knowing that this is most likely his final recorded statement, it's both beautiful and bittersweet. And when I asked Lady Gaga about that, this is what she had to say.
LADY GAGA: When I think about Tony and his last album, I have nothing but reverence, love and respect for him. I think I may always cry about this. I don't think it will ever go away. And I don't know that I want it to. I think that pain lives where pain belongs, and Tony has always inspired me to use it. So I'm going to keep using this magic in my life and just share with you that even when hard things happen, you can witness a miracle. And watching Tony sing onstage was a real miracle, when he was well and when he had Alzheimer's.
MARTIN: Wow. The miracle and the music courtesy of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Nate, what an extraordinary story. Thank you so much for bringing it to us.
CHINEN: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAM DANCING")
BENNETT: (Singing) It's joy sublime...
BENNETT AND LADY GAGA: (Singing) Whenever I spend my time dream...
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