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Tony Bennett On The Art Of Duets

Of the Oakland Press

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Tony Bennett turned 80 on Aug. 3, but he’s been celebrating the milestone all year. “I’m getting birthday cakes every day,” he says with a laugh.

But he’s also been getting presents — including a Jazzmaster designation from the National Endowment for the Arts, a for one of his paintings in the Smithsonian Institute of Art, an NBC special in November and the Billboard magazine Century Award in December.

This week’s he’s putting out “Duets: An American Classic,” an album that pairs him with 18 superstar partners, and on the occasion of its release Bennett shared some observations about the art of duetting.

Q: What makes a successful duet?

A: Well, to be different, where each voice is different, so that when you hear one person singing you know who it is. It has to be a contrasting thing.

Q: How did you approach the recordings on this album?

A: We did it very spontaneously. It was all in four or five takes, live. We worked with a live group, my quartet, so wherever (the other singers) were at, we came in and did it with them.

Q: It was crucial to record the performances together rather than splicing two separate vocals together, wasn’t it?

A: Exactly. It was just very spontaneous, and you could hear the off comments, spontaneous comments. It wasn’t made to sound perfect. It’s just very casual.

Q: What did you think about the company?

A: I was a little apprehensive about it. My son came up with the idea, but then as soon as I started seeing the names. ... They were all institutionalized artists — Bono and Michael Bublé and Celine Dion and the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Paul McCartney. ... Every one of them sells out stadiums. My masters were people that were 10 years older than I was — (Frank) Sinatra and Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. This is a whole new era.

Q: You and Stevie Wonder share a history with “For Once in My Life,” which you perform together on the album.

A: What happened was Ron Miller, who’s a great songwriter from Detroit and worked for Motown. ... I was working at the Roostertail, and he said, “I have a song I’d like you to hear.” And I liked it so much I told him, “This is one of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard in my life. If you don’t mind, I’d like to introduce it.” So he was thrilled and I recorded it, and it was done as a ballad. Well, (Motown) had a young kid that was about 16 years old, and they put a beat behind it and it was Stevie Wonder and it sound millions of records. So it was retributional to actually go in and record with him, and it came out spectacular, I think. I just love Stevie Wonder.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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