When Lady Gaga recalls her first meeting with golden-throated crooner Tony Bennett, she still sounds impressed. She had just performed a set of pop hits and a cover of Nat King Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky” – “a jazz song,” she points out – at the Robin Hood Foundation benefit gala in New York City in 2011, when she got word he wanted to see her after the show. “He heard me sing that song, and he asked to meet me,” she says now. “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, Tony Bennett’s here.’ And I was so nervous. I fixed my hair, and my mom was fixing her makeup. We went back to meet him, and he said, ‘Do you want to do a jazz album together?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course I do.’ And we were fast friends and friends ever since.”
Last night, Gaga and Bennett walked side-by-side down a red carpet, with the former wearing a décolleté black dress and the latter dressed in a tux and ear-to-ear smile, in New York City prior to singing together at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The concert, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek Live!, will air on PBS Great Performances this fall, and it preceded the announcement of Cheek to Cheek, the singers’ album of classic jazz standards that is also coming out in autumn.
Previously, Gaga and Bennett recorded “The Lady Is a Tramp” for the crooner’s 2011 Duets II album. “She’s as good as Ella Fitzgerald,” he said to Rolling Stone at the time (around which he also sketched her nude and joked about it on Gaga’s Thanksgiving special). The pair began discussing making a duets record together as early as September 2012, and began recording in the spring of 2013 despite Gaga’s hip injury. Now it’s finally happening, mostly how they had been saying it would.
Although Bennett had reportedly told a French website that Gaga had written new material for the album, specifically a song called “Paradise,” Gaga told Rolling Stone on the red carpet that the record would consist solely of standards, at least at this point. “It’s all songs from the great American songbook,” she says. “How did we pick the songs, Tony?”
“It’s all the great songs of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, all the greatest composers,” Bennett says. “No other country has ever given the rest of the world so many magnificent songs, and they’re gonna live forever. Wait ’til you find out when she sings those songs.”
“He wanted me to sing a lot of different songs,” Gaga rejoins. But, she says she knows his favorite. “He really likes when I sing ‘Lush Life,'” she says, referring to the Billy Strayhorn–penned standard that has been recorded by everyone from Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan to Donna Summer and Linda Ronstadt.
“It’s pretty special,” he says with a smile.
Gaga has been so taken with the experience of making Cheek to Cheek that, in June, she got a tattoo of a sketch Bennett had made of Miles Davis’ trumpet on her inside right bicep. On the red carpet, she says it’s “just so I can always remember this time together.”
Earlier on the red carpet, Gaga’s collaborator Lady Starlight told Rolling Stone that, even though Gaga had said in an Instagram caption that she had been singing jazz since age 13, she couldn’t believe Gaga could sing jazz the way she does. “I have known her for almost 10 years and have heard everything she’s done, and this is truly believable,” Starlight said. “It just didn’t sound like her singing; the quality of the voice, the phrasing, everything, it was so interesting. For me to hear her sing pop and rock ballads, it made me understand more about her. I could hear how she changed her voice. It was a very cool experience for me.”
Gaga’s Cheek to Cheek collaborator, however, sees something else in his foil. “She phrases like I phrase,” Bennett says on the carpet. “She’s a wonderful singer. Everybody knows and loves her very much. I think when they hear this album that we’re doing, they’re going to say, ‘We had no idea that she sings that well.'”
Watch the music video for their take on Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” first song from the new LP, below.