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Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga Go 'Cheek To Cheek' On New Album

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's collaborative album is called Cheek To Cheek. (Courtesy of the artist)

You might think they go together like oil and water, or chalk and cheese.

"I think it's probably what a lot of people are thinking when they hear Tony Bennett wants to do a jazz album with Lady Gaga," says Gaga herself of her new collaborative album with the legendary crooner, Cheek To Cheek. "They say, 'Huh? What are you talking about?'"

It's not the first time they've worked together. The pair collaborated on "The Lady Is A Tramp" for his album Duets II, which won a Grammy. Bennett says Lady Gaga's up to the challenge of a full album of standards.

"She's actually a very authentic jazz singer," he says. "She'll turn a phrase, she'll make it different, because of the moment that she's singing. And so, what happens is it keeps the songs alive; the interpretations become very intimate and everlasting."

Like Bennett, Lady Gaga was born in New York City. She's actually been singing jazz since she was a kid — but of course, she's best known for her pop songs and over-the-top stage shows, which draw sell-out crowds around the world. So, why did she decide to record with Tony Bennett?

"He's brought out a subtlety in me that I've missed for a while, because my life is very noisy," Gaga says. "It's a lot harder to sing with auto-tune, in a way, you know? It's a lot harder to sing with rigid electronic music and lots of spectacle. It can be very difficult, because it's not always extremely natural."

But the new record is natural, says New Yorker pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones.

"You know, her records have become increasingly so crowded, so noisy — but not with noise, just sort of noisy with information that I don't understand what's going on exactly," Frere-Jones says. "And this is a wide-open, fairly natural record. I'm sure there's some editing involved in there, but, you know, she's there. I don't know what the world will make of it, but it's actually pretty good!"

Frere-Jones also points out that Lady Gaga is more than pop spectacle; she can really play piano and sing. She says working with the 88-year-old Bennett has been a real education.

"I love watching Tony perform," she says. "I always sit in the theater and watch when he's performing without me, with his quartet."

Bennett hopes the learning experience extends to Lady Gaga's audience.

"It's the first time that young people that love [her] so much will fall in love with George Gershwin, with Cole Porter, with Irving Berlin," Bennett says.

"And most of them, a lot of them, surprisingly, know some of those songs," Gaga says. "And they're sort of getting more and more and more excited and it's becoming cooler for them to talk about who wrote what. Tony's really opening up a whole new generation.

"I feel very validated by this," the pop singer says. "You know, he's given my fans a gift by saying to them that he likes the way I sing jazz."

The two singers also seem to genuinely like each other. In addition to the album, PBS will be broadcasting a concert of Gaga and Bennett singing duets in October. And — in case any of Lady Gaga's fans are curious about who wrote what — Bennett promises there will be visuals, identifying the songwriters, at the start of every song.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

He's a legend, she's a superstar, and now they've found each other in the studio. Tony Bennett, of course, has recorded lots of duets before with everyone from Bill Evans, the jazz pianist, k.d. lang. Lady Gaga has millions of adoring fans around the world. She's also got probably millions. But Jeff Lunden reports that their new album of duets and solos called "Cheek To Cheek" is something a bit different for both of them.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: You might think they go together like oil and water or chalk and cheese.

LADY GAGA: I think it's probably what a lot of people are thinking when they hear Tony Bennett wants to do a jazz album with Lady Gaga, and they say huh? What are you talking about?

LUNDEN: It's not the first time Lady Gaga has recorded with Tony Bennett.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LADY IS A TRAMP")

LUNDEN: The pair collaborated on "The Lady Is A Tramp" for his previous duets album, which won a Grammy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LADY IS A TRAMP")

TONY BENNETT: (Singing) She gets too hungry for dinner at eight.

LADY GAGA: I'm starving.

BENNETT: (Singing) She loves theater but she never comes late.

LADY GAGA: (Singing) I never bother with people that I hate. That's why this chick is a tramp.

LUNDEN: The two decided to team up for a full album of standards. And Bennett says Lady Gaga's up to the challenge.

BENNETT: She's actually a very authentic jazz singer. She'll turn a phrase, she'll make it different, because of the moment that she's singing. So what happens is it keeps the songs alive. The interpretations become a very intimate and everlasting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUSH LIFE")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) I used to visit all the very gay places, those come what may places, where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life to get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails. The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces, with distingue traces that used to be that you could see where they'd been washed away by too many through the day twelve o'clock tales.

LUNDEN: Like Bennett, Lady Gaga was born in New York City, and she's actually been singing jazz since she was a kid. But she's, of course, best known for her pop songs and her over-the-top stage shows, which draw sellout crowds around the world. So why did she decide to record with Tony Bennett?

LADY GAGA: He's brought out a subtlety in me that I've missed for a while because my life is very noisy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APPLAUSE")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) Pop culture was an art, now art's in pop culture in me. I live for the applause, applause, applause. I live for the applause-plause, live for the applause-plause. Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me, the applause, applause, applause.

LADY GAGA: It's a lot harder to sing with rigid electronic music and lots of spectacle. It can be very difficult because it's not always extremely natural.

LUNDEN: But the new record is, says New Yorker pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones.

SASHA FRERE-JONES: Her records have become increasingly sonically so crowded, just sort of noisy with information that I don't understand what's going on exactly. And this is a wide open, fairly natural record. You know, she's there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURE BOY")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) And then one day, one magic day, he passed my way.

BENNETT: (Singing) And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, this he said to me. The greatest thing...

LADY GAGA: (Singing) You'll ever learn...

BENNETT AND LADY GAGA: (Singing) ...Is just to love and be loved in return.

FRERE-JONES: I don't know what the world will make of it, but it's actually pretty good.

LUNDEN: Frere-Jones points out that Lady Gaga is more than pop spectacle. She can really play piano and sing. She says working with the 88-year-old Bennett has been a real education.

LADY GAGA: I love watching Tony perform. I always sit in the theater and watch when he's performing without me with his quartet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOPHISTICATED")

BENNETT: (Singing) They say into your early life romance came, and in this heart of yours burn the flame, a flame that flickered one day and died away.

LUNDEN: Tony Bennett hopes the learning experience extends to Lady Gaga's audience.

BENNETT: It's the first time that young people that love you so much will fall in love with George Gershwin with Cole Porter...

LADY GAGA: Oh yeah.

BENNETT: ...With Irving Berlin.

LADY GAGA: And most of them - a lot of them surprisingly know some of those songs. And they're sort of getting more and more and more excited. And it's becoming cooler for them to talk about who wrote what. Tony's really opening up a whole new generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY ALL LAUGHED")

BENNETT: (Singing) They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.

LADY GAGA: (Singing) They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.

I feel very validated by this. You know, he's given my fans a gift by saying to them that he likes the way I sing jazz.

LUNDEN: They also seem to genuinely like each other. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY ALL LAUGHED")

BENNETT: (Singing) They all laughed at Fulton and his steamboat, Hershey and his chocolate bar.

LADY GAGA: (Singing) Ford and his Lizzie kept the laughers busy, that's how people are.

SIMON: That's Gershwin, of course. Our theme music is by BJ Leiderman - close. WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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