When describing pop-icon Lady Gaga, the words “smooth jazz” and “easy-listening” do not come to mind. However, the young megastar has yet another game-changing move up her sequined sleeve. She and standards legend Tony Bennett just released a collaborative album titled “Cheek to Cheek,” which samples a range of jazz classics from the Great American Songbook.
The incongruous couple has been making headlines since the duo first performed “The Lady is a Tramp” together in 2011 on Bennett’s album “Duets II,” which held the number one spot on Billboard’s Jazz Chart in 2011, breaking digital download records.
The pair developed a strong friendship while working together, and Bennett, taking note of Gaga’s ability to sing jazz, approached her with the idea to make a collaborative album. While it may seem odd that the pop-anthem singer most known for her arena-synth hits, like “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face” has suddenly taken an interest in jazz, Gaga has been singing the genre since age 13.
“Cheek to Cheek” is designed as a refreshing homage to the great jazz standards of the 1930’s. With tracks including, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing),” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “Lush Life,” Bennett and Gaga are set to sing standards composed by the best American jazz performers, from Duke Ellington to Billy Strayhorn.
While it starts out a bit light, by track two, the album sinks its teeth into the heart of the genre; each track continually delivers and builds upon the last, with a fair mix of duets and solos from the each artist. Gaga shows quite a breadth of range and control over her voice.
In the “Nature Boy” duet, an ethereal song that even gave Frank Sinatra’s some difficulty with his vocal range, Gaga’s powerful, yet smooth voice is reminiscent of young Barbra Streisand. Bennett’s voice is equally powerful and impressive given his age. The grainy warm tone of his voice makes a perfect base for Gaga to harmonize around.
Things take more of a sultry, sensual turn on “I can’t Give You Anything But Love”, while up-tempo tracks like “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing” are simply set to please traditional jazz lovers.
The album is accompanied by Bennett’s personal friends along with a handful of Gaga’s old friends, who seek to bring their own flair to the album. Brian Newman, Gaga’s closest friend —who still is just a local Lower East Side rock-n-roller — now heads the brass section of the band on trumpet.
Bennett has been overwhelmingly supportive of Gaga’s transition into jazz.
“She’s as good as Ella Fitzgerald or anybody you want to come up with,” he affirmed to Rolling Stone. “And that’s without her dancing and her philosophies.”
After the underwhelming success of her latest album ARTPOP, Gaga has frequently credited Tony Bennett with saving her life.
“Working with Tony on this album was artistically liberating, giving me a break from the pop business,” Gaga quipped. “Whatever authenticity you hear in my vocals is because of Tony. He really understands me, and I can be myself around him. He helped me through a tough time.”
Throughout this album’s promotional tour, Bennett and Gaga have been behaving like an awkward, romantic couple. It is strange to see Bennett, 88, and Gaga, 60 years his junior, arm-in-arm, cooing praises to one another during interviews and promotional shows, but it is the music that draws them together. Both artists seek to draw new audiences to the genre, both desire to maintain this important musical legacy relevance for future generations.
“Cheek To Cheek” has already placed in the top ten most downloaded albums on iTunes. Both promotional singles, “Anything Goes” and “I Can’t Give you Anything But Love” also topped international jazz charts. The pair plans to tour this album together sometime in 2015.
On Oct. 24, PBS will air a pre-taped performance of the entire “Cheek to Cheek” setlist. Do not expect to see any outlandish dress from Gaga. She has chosen to dawn a more classic, glamorous look out of respect for the genre.
One thing is clear, Gaga’s voice is not an act. This collaboration, while it seems odd, certainly comes from a pure place. The sincerity, dedication, and passion can be heard throughout the album, and it firmly anchors, “Cheek to Cheek” from start to finish.