If a millennial were asked to comment on the state of jazz today, more than likely they would say it was dead. This mistaken millennial might not have an opinion about jazz, but it is not too late to sway the broader consensus on the subject. Coming up on its five year anniversary, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett joined forces to make the jazzy, big band, show tune-y album, “Cheek to Cheek.”
They created this nostalgic album to introduce an old musical style to the modern age. Listening to “Cheek to Cheek” will make anyone want to smoke a cigarette with a cup of coffee, in some nice heels and in good company.
The New York natives first met at the Robin Hood Gala in 2011 in New York City. Both have hearts of gold. Bennett and Gaga are best known for their music careers, but both are compassionate activists for many causes.
Gaga started the Born This Way Foundation (named after her 2011 album) with her mother, Cynthia, in which she promotes educating youth on the acceptance of every person just the way they are. Bennett started his own arts school in his hometown of Astoria, Queens, called the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts High School. Art and acceptance are at the core of the duo’s psyches.
Bennett is a legend. He has made a chart-topping album every decade since the 1950s. Bennett’s jazz influences include Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and James Durante. When thinking of jazz or big band, Bennett is without a doubt one of the genre’s titans.
Gaga, on the other hand, stunned listeners in “Cheek to Cheek” when her familiar pop voice belted out some of jazz’s classics like “Lush Life” and “I Won’t Dance.” Her musical style has truly evolved since her 2014 electropop album, “ARTPOP.” Since then, her style has taken a more folky, classic turn.
Furthermore, her debut role for the 2018 blockbuster remake, “A Star is Born,” was such an incredible display of Gaga’s range. From “The Fame,” her debut album in 2008, to “ARTPOP,” Gaga had been pigeonholed as a pop singer. “Cheek to Cheek” is the perfect album to dissuade anyone who only knows Gaga for “Poker Face” or “Paparazzi.”
It is safe to say that New York is the city where stars are born. The talented singer’s first arrangement, “The Lady is a Tramp,” was a part of Bennett’s sequel to his first album of duets, “Duets II.” The musical alliance planted the seed from which “Cheek to Cheek” bloomed. Getting into the album, the two singers have such a playful and magical chemistry from the first song to the last.
The album starts off with the wonderful title song to the 1934 musical, “Anything Goes.” Their first song is a nice toe-dip for the listener, as they slowly get into a cold, soon-to-be familiar pool that is “Cheek to Cheek.”
The first song foreshadows the duo’s vocal relationship: powerfully playful. They are so good at give and take. I firmly believe Bennett and Gaga’s rendition of “Cheek to Cheek” (the second song on the album) would make Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers proud.
There is a sweet instrumental toward the end of the song that makes the listener feel like Tony and Gaga are taking the time to dance and enjoy themselves. A wicked guitar pulls the singers back in, and they sing “Dance with me / I want my arm around you / the charms about you / will carry me through / to heaven.” I wish my generation still danced this way.
Bennett and Gaga each have two solos on the album. The magic in these solos makes listeners feel as if they are being serenaded. “Don’t Wait Too Long” (written by Madeleine Peyroux, only on the Deluxe album) and “Sophisticated Lady” (composed by Duke Ellington) are such tender songs for listening. The two songs make me feel like the seasons are changing right outside my window. They are slow, every word pronounced with such passion behind each of them.
Gaga’s solos, “Lush Life” (written by Billy Strayhorn) and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (written by Cole Porter, only on the Deluxe album), are out of this world. Like chocolate melting, her voice is rich and sweet. Some of the notes, especially in “Lush Life,” are sure to give the listener long lasting goosebumps.
I believe jazz is the rawest genre of music because the voices are just as unpredictable as the instruments accompanying those voices. If there is anything I crave from this album, it would be an original duet by Bennett and Gaga. I would love to see their two minds create something from scratch.
The heat picks up in their big band duets. Songs like “Firefly” (originally performed by Tony Bennett), “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (written by Irving Berlin) and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)” (written by Irving Mills) show Bennett and Gaga’s playful side. Like a cat and mouse chase, the singers take fun, pull it away and give it right back, sweeping up the listener on a ride with lively bouncing instrumentals, making it hard not to tap my foot.
Gaga and Bennett’s collaboration is a postmodern masterpiece. The album is timeless, just as the songs they perform. In a world of mass produced pop and remixing, this album gives me faith that jazz has never left our world or hearts. Maybe it’s just that the attention and recognition of the genre is just misplaced.
A song provides a look into the past. It feeds the generations of today an audible ambiance of what that era may have sounded like. This album combines the modern voice of Gaga with the classical voice of Bennett, creating an aesthetic sound that a grandmother, mother and daughter can all listen to, together.
Sadly, not together, Bennett and Gaga do still tour solo. Both will be performing, at different times, in Las Vegas, Nevada during the fall of 2019.