22 Septembre 2015
‘The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern,’ will feature Bennett’s voice and gift for improvisation.
Tony Bennett is still exploring the unknown. A year after collaborating with Lady Gaga on “Cheek to Cheek”—their Grammy-winning album and seven-month global tour that followed—the 89 year-old singer is once again putting his reputation on the line.
On Sept. 25, Mr. Bennett will release “The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern” (RPM/Columbia), a jazz album recorded last year that exposes his voice and gift for improvisation. Instead of singing with an orchestra, he is accompanied only by jazz pianist Bill Charlap, two jazz pianos played by Mr. Charlap and his wife, Renee Rosnes, and by Mr. Charlap’s trio, with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Preorders have propelled the album into Amazon’s best-selling vocal jazz and vocal pop offerings. Mr. Bennett spoke to the Journal while sitting on a blue sofa in the studio where he paints overlooking New York’s Central Park. Edited from an interview:
‘Look for the Silver Lining’ Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap
Are you and Lady Gaga planning a second album?
We’ve been talking about it. We’ll see what happens. She’s been working on a TV project [“American Horror Story: Hotel”]. I’d like to. I love when she sings an intimate ballad. I want to record more of those with her.
Touring with Lady Gaga this year made you a superstar—again. Does stardom feel different today?
Hey, I’ve been around a long time. I had my first No. 1 hit [“Because of You”] in 1951. After “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in ‘62 and my Carnegie Hall concert album that year, things were pretty great. Today, it’s different. Everything is bigger and global. It’s a big business. In some places where Lady Gaga and I performed, it was like singing at a baseball game.
Did you like that?
Not really. I prefer smaller, acoustic halls. My voice needs an intimate space so the audience can feel it and I can feed off their reactions. I like Carnegie Hall. It’s only 2,400 seats [laughs]. Lady Gaga and I both love Radio City Music Hall. It’s perfect in terms of visual beauty and sound for my kind of music.
Are you a jazz singer or a pop singer?
People think I’m a pop singer, but I’m really a jazz interpreter of the American songbook. Jazz is honest music, and singing with jazz musicians inspires me. I never sing a song the same way twice. I might change the emphasis on words. Or I might drop back a little behind the beat or get ahead of it. Or I may jump an octave on notes to add emphasis and change things up. But I never plan what I’m going to do in advance. These choices are intuitive and happen in the moment, depending on how accompanying jazz musicians move me.
Some singers find that scary, no?
Well, that’s their problem [laughs].
What do you do to keep your voice in shape?
Nothing. Just before I perform, I’ll warm up with 10 to 15 operatic bel canto exercises that emphasize vowel sounds. After that, I’m good to go. But I don’t drink tea or sing in a hot shower each day. I’m just blessed, I guess.
What’s so special about Jerome Kern?
[Pianist] Bill Charlap had the idea for the album. Bill’s view is that Kern is the top of the songwriter family tree, and he’s right. Kern loved European classical music and American popular music, and he combined the two early in the 20th century. His approach influenced Berlin, Porter, Gershwin and everyone else. Bill and I looked at all of Kern’s songs, we picked 14 and then Bill came back with these wonderful arrangements. When he played them for me, I may have suggested a different tempo or a different key, but that was about it.
Why change the key?
It’s not a matter of where my voice can sing the song. That has never been a problem. I prefer keys that will give me the comfort and flexibility to move around inside a song and try new things.
Are you planning another songbook album?
I think so. Right now I’m working with pianist Mike Renzi. He loves singers, and I can’t wait to record with him. I think we’re going to do a Gershwin album—just Mike on piano and me.
What could you do vocally in the ’50s and ’60s that you can’t do now?
It’s better now. Over time, I’ve learned what to leave out, not what to put in. I made a mistake when I was younger. Sometimes I stayed on stage too long or packed too much in, vocally. Less truly is more.
You’re the last of the great songbook singers still going strong. Ever worry you’re overdoing it?
No. I love what I do. I love making people feel good. I’m at an age now where people listen critically to hear if I still have it. I like pushing myself with albums like this new one to show them I still do. There have been many singers in the past who sang in their later years, but they weren’t as good as when they were younger. They were accepted because they were still going. I feel I’m still singing the way I did in the 1950s, maybe even better. Jazz keeps me on my toes. As far as overdoing it, I can’t worry about what’s coming because life plans you more than you plan life.