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Tony Bennett marks 85 with new duet album

Sept. 18, 2011 - 18:44 By
U.S. singer-painter says he’s still learning and growing even more

Late singer Amy Winehouse once described Tony Bennett as follows: “He could sing the phone book and it would sound fantastic.”

Her final recording was duet “Body and Soul” with Bennett, which is the third track on the 85-year-old’s new album “Tony Bennett: Duet II,” scheduled to hit the shelves Tuesday.

Five years after the release of the Grammy-winning collaboration album “Tony Bennett Duets: An American Classic” in 2006 marking his 80th birthday, Bennett produced the latest CD with legendary producer Phil Ramone and an army of popular vocalists including Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones and Lady Gaga.

In an email interview prior to his concert at the Metropolitan Opera House City in New York City on Sunday, Bennett said he was in the best condition of his long-time musical career to sing with great energy, despite his age. Bennett will be in Los Angeles for a charity event hosted by AARP on Sept. 24 and have another live concert in London on Oct. 3.

Bennett is also a successful painter, with his works forming part of permanent collections at prestigious museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 
Tony Bennett with late singer Amy Winehouse for a recording of his album. (Sony Music Entertainment Korea)

The following is an excerpt from The Korea Herald’s interview with Tony Bennett.

KH: I heard you plan to have concerts in New York and L.A. in September and in London in October. Do you think your age will influence the length of the concert or cause the set list to be more focused on slow music than fast music?

Bennett: (Laugh) I’m known in the United States as a phenomenon because I’m 85 and I’m singing as well now as I did when I was 18. I’m in great health, I sing with the same energy, and many reviewers say that it’s better now than before.

KH: What’s the secret to being actively involved in music your entire life?

Bennett: It came from my Italian-American family. When I was a little boy, I entertained in front of my relatives every Sunday when they came over to my mother’s. My brother and sister and myself, we would entertain them. They would say: “Look at how they sing.” And they also liked the way I painted, because I also paint. They would say “Look at how he sings. Look at how he paints.”

And I remember at a very early age, I said, “This is who I am. They say that I sing well, and I perform well, so I’ll do that for the rest of my life.” So that created a passion for me to sing and paint for the rest of my life. And luckily, at 85 a lot of people say that I’m still learning and growing even more. In fact, I’m learning sculpturing now.

KH: What was the biggest achievement in your life and what was the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Bennett: Well, I don’t know about a challenge because I love what I do. It’s not work to me, it never feels difficult. The biggest achievement is that the U.N. made me the citizen of the world. And that changed my whole concept and made me realize that everybody in the world is all here. So it’s very interesting. Whenever I travel now, I feel like I’m a citizen of the world.

KH: Among the artists who have collaborated for the latest album, who do you think is the most inspiring musician and why?

Bennett: Well, Lady Gaga was wonderful. We did the duet “The Lady Is a Tramp” and it was very humorous. But she what did on the record it was very wonderful. She is really one of the new artists that is going to be one of the great performers.

KH: Can you share the most interesting episode that occurred while you were working with other artists?

Bennett: Well with Lady Gaga, you know, she was fantastic. She would put everything on film also. But then in the future when the album is released, there’s going to be many films of different artists and how they performed. We had a photography team that received an Academy Award in the film “Chicago.” It’s a beautiful team of photographers. And they photographed every artist in different settings. It’s quite fabulous. We also traveled all over the world instead of them coming to us.

We went, for instance, with Andrea Bocelli, we went to Pisa, Italy, where his home is. He has a recording studio there and we recorded right in his home. Michael Buble was in New York. Mariah Carey was in Los Angeles.

So we went to different places, to where they live. We put it that way.

KH: Do you have any plan for an Asia tour, or specifically, a Korea tour?

Bennett: I would love to someday. But right now there aren’t any plans yet. But I would like to someday.

KH: How did you spend your 85th birthday?

Bennett: I had a beautiful day. Actually it was the one day I spent with my wife privately, we didn’t have a party or anything like that, but we just loved it. It was a beautiful day because my son, who was my manager for many years, was telling me good news about doing big TV specials and how my records were selling, more than any other artist on Sony Columbia.

By Kim Yoon-mi (