A blue-haired lady recently took her clothes off for Tony Bennett, the great American singer who still loves to swing. Bennett, whose latest album Duets II debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, recently spoke to The Globe about a blessing, a Bublé and one disrobed megastar.
This is a stock question, but what’s the deal with you seeing Lady Gaga naked?
It’s true. You see, I also paint. So, Vanity Fair had me do a sketch of her. It’s a double-page photo spread in the magazine, But, yes, she was completely nude.
It’s good to be Tony Bennett, isn’t it?
It is, you know. I have a blessed life. My name is Benedetto. When you translate it into English, it’s “the blessed one.”
The duet with Lady Gaga is The Lady Is a Tramp, one of the more up-tempo tracks on the album. How did it come about?
Marion Evans, the great orchestrator, came out of retirement. He was the equivalent of Nelson Riddle. When computers became popular, he quit the music business. But I asked him if he would consider doing the charts for me. He did one for Michael Bublé and one for Lady Gaga.
About computers, what’s your opinion on crooners, such as Bublé, using pitch-correcting software?
I don’t have a problem with that.
Do you use Auto-Tune?
No. I don’t need it. I never sing out of tune.
You sang the ballad Body and Soul with the late Amy Winehouse. What was your opinion of her as a singer?
She was singing as good as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. So she was very, very talented. After Elvis Presley and stadium shows, the art of intimate singing was forgotten. I kept looking for singers, and the only one I found who really knew how to sing the right way was Amy Winehouse.
What do you mean by the right way?
It’s called a gift. It’s knowing how to be natural and truly improvise for the moment, and making it believable. It’s about giving it the warmth and the feeling – everything at one time.
What’s you opinion of Michael Bublé? Do you see Sinatra in him?
He does more than that. He does a little Dean Martin and Perry Como and a little bit of me once in a while. But I like him. He’s very much like Louis Prima, in that people feel good when they see him.
Your duet with Josh Groban is This Is All I Ask, a song you’ve been singing since 1963. It has the line “Let the music play, as long as there’s a song to sing.” Are there still great songs being written?
Yeah, there’s Stephen Sondheim.
Is it fair to say, that with a number one record at age 85, you made the right decision to stick to the classics?
Good music is like designing a suit. You design a song. When you get a composer like Cole Porter, who was better than anybody else, you can’t believe the way he worked lyrics to music. Night and Day, Begin the Beguine – they don’t go out of style, and they’re not old-fashioned.
Last question: Is it true what they say, that it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing?
Everything I do swings. There’s a beat to it that rock ’n’ roll doesn’t have. It’s like Fred Astaire said: If it doesn’t swing, I’m outta here.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Tony Bennett plays the Centre In The Square in Kitchener, Ont., on Dec. 14.Report Typo/Error