Unlikely duo Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga released “Cheek to Cheek,” their 16-track jazz collaboration on Tuesday. The album pulls from the Great American Songbook, with Bennett and Gaga covering classic jazz hits by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole.
“Cheek to Cheek” was inspired by and recorded in New York City, where both Bennett and Gaga were born and raised. The album explores the history of American jazz music, which Bennett frequently calls the greatest music ever made. You can hear the influence of Ella Fitzgerald on Gaga’s vocals throughout the album.
Jazz is slower and more deliberate than what is normally played on the radio, and for that reason “Cheek to Cheek” has been criticized as boring and outdated. The album is not an attempt to compete with contemporaries, but a page from a songbook of another generation.
Bennett and Gaga especially shine in the title track, “Cheek to Cheek,” with vocals that glide in and out of the music. Each song transports you into a smoke-filled room with mahogany walls where Miles Davis and Count Basie play jazz standards. The album is not entirely duets, Bennett and Gaga both take two solos where their individual talents, Bennett’s smooth cadence and Gaga’s killer pipes, are showcased.
The pair recorded a live special at Lincoln Center in July that will air on PBS on Oct. 24. The 60-year age difference between Bennett and Gaga doesn’t seem to affect their magnetic chemistry that flows from the music.
“I learn so much when we sing together,” Gaga said in an interview with Billboard. “The way he sings is like he’s touching the heart of every single person in the room.”
Bennett approached Gaga in 2011 after watching her perform and asked if she’d like to make a jazz album together.
“I’ve seen it all, but I’ve never met anybody that is more intelligent about performing than Lady Gaga,” Bennett told the Today Show. “I have a lot of faith in her career.”
Bennett and Gaga collaborated once before, recording a cover of “The Lady is a Tramp” for Bennett’s “Duets II” album. They went on to perform the song at the 2013 inauguration of President Obama.
Bennett, 88, has been making music for over 65 years and has released over 70 albums. In 2001, he started the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York. He is also a painter with his work on display in the Smithsonian.
Lady Gaga has released five albums since being discovered in 2008. She is also an advocate for equal rights and founded the Born This Way Foundation in 2011. She primarily makes pop music, but has been singing jazz non-commercially since she was in high school.
Can’t-miss songs: “Cheek to Cheek,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “Lush Life.”