Some say “there aren’t stars like in the past”, “there are no genres anymore”, and “everything has already been done”. But wouldn’t it be more correct to consider this phase of perpetual revival in which we seem to find ourselves a precious moment of introspection necessary for passing from one epoch to another? This, at least, is what emerges from the partnership between Lady Gaga, the first superstar of the new millennium, and Tony Bennett, the last crooner of the old world, the co-author of Cheek to cheek, one of the recordings and revelations of the year.
With a sixty-year gap between them – he’s 88 and she’s 28 – they share Italian origins and a passion for jazz, one of the most long-lived and universal musical genres.
Jazz is full of contemporary sensibility even though it always remains true to itself, just like Bennett, after all, a gentleman from another age who has made 70 recordings and is the guardian of that traditional singing style for which Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were famous. Like other great performers, Bennett had already performed with many other artists, and many of these collaborations were featured in two albums of duets. In “Playing with my friends: Bennett sings the blues” (2001), he performed with jazz and R&B icons such as Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Billy Joel, B.B. King and Ray Charles. In “Duets” (2011), he sang with Amy Winehouse, Michael Bublé, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Andrea Bocelli and Lady Gaga.
During a charity concert where both performed, Bennett was struck by Gaga’s voice and personality, but especially by the warmth of her fans: where adulation is concerned, you have to admit that no crooner can compare with a pop icon! From a cocktail backstage to the recording studio, the passage was brief. The result was The lady is a tramp, a song from 1937 that made fun of the high society of Fiorello La Guardia’s New York. Enthusiastic about the duet, Bennett called Gaga a real “jazz lady”. The piece was praised by public and critics alike, and the two decided to continue with that joint venture that, after several months of work, led to Cheek to Cheek. The album features classic pieces from the Great American Songbook, a selection of the most famous songs performed on Broadway and in Hollywood between the twenties and fifties. The songs chosen by Bennett and Gaga – by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern – are ironic duets between a man and woman in alternate stages of courtship. Some were originally composed for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. “Think of what you’re losing by constantly refusing to dance with me”, sings Gaga/Ginger in I won’t dance. “My heart won’t let my feet do things they should do”, replies Bennett/Astaire.
The tour (which still does not have an official calendar, but a great concert at the Royal Albert Hall of London on June 8, 2015 was just announced) was inaugurated by an extraordinary closed-door concert at Lincoln Center in New York last July. Surrounded by a shadowy set designed by Robert Wilson – as minimalist as it was mysterious – the couple performed with a 39-piece orchestra before an audience of art students from different public schools in the city. The choice of this specific audience came from a desire to educate young people about a musical genre that was unknown to them due to age and culture. Thanks to Lady Gaga, however, the approach to this art form was much easier. Performing live and in the video clips accompanying the CD, the pop star unleashed her secret transformist talents and blended styles and genres from the past as only she can, freeing the ghosts of past divas who made music history.
On the Lincoln Center stage, she was dressed in a red leather jumpsuit in seventies soul style, in a twenties-style flapper dress with gold filigree headpiece, and in a long black gown and headdress that was a combination of Siouxsie and Cruella de Vil. Tired of the larger than life image associated with previous partnerships – with artists such as Francesco Vezzoli and Jeff Koons, and with fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Jeremy Scott – Lady Gaga really wanted to do this recording in a precise phase of her career when, after a difficult period, she felt the need to find her “earthly” identity and the innocence of that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta that we never knew.
"When I sing in the studio with Tony, my childhood flashes before my eyes", she says. "I see those moments when I sang the tunes of Ella Fitzgerald, my first love, when I was part of the high school jazz band». Collaborations in the music, art, and theater world are a growing phenomenon. Sometimes it’s a “passing of the baton” or mere market strategies. In other cases, like this one, the collaboration satisfies the creative urge to explore new horizons.
In this recording, Lady Gaga found a way to rid herself of an image with which she no longer identified. For Bennett and the rest of us listeners, Cheek to Cheek is proof that certain phenomena of popular culture – even those considered lightweight – deserve to be remembered and that today we have even more need of crooners than of superstars.
Manicure Bernadette Thompson.
Hair Stylist Frederic Aspiras].
Makeup artist Sammy Mourabit
Set designer Andrea Stanley.
Production N6. Retouching Jim Alexandrou@1515.