Lady Gaga has flat-out said that recording the jazz standards album Cheek To Cheek with the legendary Tony Bennett saved her from possible artistic death. It’s the culmination of a lifelong love affair with jazz, which Gaga has said she started singing when she was 13 years old.
So, how does Gaga rate next to Bennett, who was well into his second (or third) career resurgence when she was born? Despite the 60-year age difference between the “Applause” singer and the vocal legend, on the 11-track album — due September 23 — the pair sound like a match made in heaven. They flawlessly merge their unique styles and show off a charming in-studio rapport that totally translates to the collection of jazz and pop vocal standards.
1. “Anything Goes”
This Cole Porter-written tune was the first single from the album and it has a long history for both artists. Bennett first covered it in 1959 on his Strike Up the Band album and Gaga has said she fell in love with it as a 13-year-old. The pair trade lines in the bright arrangement and Gaga is clearly having a blast, doing her best Broadway belting with tons of energy and enthusiasm.
2. “Cheek To Cheek”
Another Great American Songbook standard — this one from Irving Berlin — finds the dynamic duo singing in perfect harmony, with Gaga’s high-clear vocals dancing around Bennett’s still crystal-clear mid-range. The mutual admiration comes through on this one and you can easily imagine the energy in the studio when they recorded it.
3. “Nature Boy”
Nat King Cole had a huge hit in 1948 with this song about a “strange enchanted boy” who learns the ultimate lesson that the greatest thing in life is “to love and to be loved in return.” The lush orchestral arrangement has Gaga dipping into her breathy Liza Minnelli range amid trilling flutes and gently brushed drums. This song sounds like what you imagine a smoky jazz club in 1940s New York would feel like.
Talk about Liza! Gaga sounds like she just stepped out of a Broadway revival with her scatting, brassy singing on this uptempo track.
5. “I Won’t Dance”
This is one of the best examples of why Gaga and Bennett likely thought this album was a good idea. The Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II 1934 tune from the flop “Three Sisters” musical has been recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra and British “Pop Idol” star Will Young. But in Gaga and Bennett’s hands, the vocals sound like a flirty conversation, with Mother Monster giving it her brassy best while Bennett, as usual, lays back in the cut and plays it cool.
6. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”
Things get a bit funky on this Jimmy McHugh track from 1928, with plucked stand-up bass, gorgeous Hammond organ and fierce horn-playing courtesy of Bennett’s quartet. Also along for the ride are Gaga’s buddy jazz trumpeter Brian Newman and his jazz quintet as well as tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano.
The duo also rework the lyrics, with Gaga giving a shout-out to Bennett on the line, “Gee, I’d like to say you’re looking swell, Tony” and Bennett returning the favor by singing, “Diamond bracelets won’t work, doesn’t sell, Gaga.”
7. “Lush Life”
One of the most beloved jazz standards, “Life” was written by Billy Strayhorn in the 1930s and made famous through renditions recorded by everyone from Nat King Cole to John Coltrane and Queen Latifah. It’s a shining showcase for Gaga’s more restrained, nuanced singing, toning down the bombast of her pop tunes for a more measured, mature sound.
8. “Sophisticated Lady”
Originally composed as an instrumental by Duke Ellington in 1932, this is the kind of standard that Bennett can knock out in his sleep. This time around, his deft vocals effortlessly dance between the piano notes for one of his signature performances.
9. “Let’s Face The Music And Dance”
Gaga is totally in her element on this Irving Berlin burner from 1936. With a Calypso-style beat and bright horns, she sounds like the world’s glitziest lounge singer, clearly enjoying the moment so much you can practically hear her grinning her way through the vocals.
10. “But Beautiful”
Bennett first tried this 1947 Jimmy Van Heusen song on his 1975 album with jazz piano giant Bill Evans. On this string-heavy rendition, he and Gaga sound like moony-eyed teenagers sharing a microphone as they sing about their endless love. This is also one of the few songs on the album where Gaga lets a bit of her pop persona shine through when she growls out the chorus near the end of the track.
11. “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”
Another Ellington composition, this one has the perfect energy for Bennett and Gaga to both let it rip. Loose and uptempo, the song swings and jives through brassy horn solos and ends with the duo scatting their way off into the sunset as Gaga gives off an enthusiastic “Whoo!!!”