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Tony Bennett tells all: Why he's gaga over Lady Gaga and how he'll never grow old

Tony Bennett tells all: Why he's gaga over Gaga & will never grow old

Tony Bennett
Tony Bennet hits Houston Nov. 3 for an intimate concert in the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall. Photo courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center

Within a week of last month's debut of Cheek to Cheek, Tony Bennett's new album with Lady Gaga, the recording hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Album chart and on the Jazz Album and Traditional Jazz Album charts. Even at 88, the man's still got it.

He's a talent with records made and records set. With the release of Cheek To Cheek, Bennett broke his own record, set in 2011 when Duets II debuted at No.1 He was 85. Now, three years later, Bennett remains the oldest artist in music industry history to have an album in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts. 

The venerable songman hits Houston Nov. 3 for an intimate concert in the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall. He will perform for Music With Friends, a nationwide network of private music clubs organized locally by Susie and Sanford Criner. Some memberships remain and include a ticket to Bennett's show. (For info call Annie Eifler 713-899-3473 or annie@musicwithfriends.com.) 

CultureMap conducted an email interview with Bennett in advance of his Hobby Center performance.

CultureMap: It seems that you and Lady Gaga have a special relationship that goes beyond a mere performance duo. Can you explain how this relationship developed?

Tony Bennett: Well, we first met backstage at a benefit event (in 2011) for the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City. I heard her perform and thought she was terrific and at the time I was working on my Duets II CD and wanted to ask her to record with me. I went backstage and met her and her parents and asked her to record with me and she said, "Let's do it."  And that led to a great friendship that we have. We are both Italian-American and we have a lot in common. So we truly enjoy working together.

"We are both Italian-American and we have a lot in common. So we truly enjoy working together."

CM: To what do you attribute your amazing stamina and good health?

TB: One thing I try to do is always stay positive and not get stressed if something negative happens because stress is a killer. I like to always be optimistic and not dwelling too much on past mistakes — learn from them but don't dwell on them. Also, I have a wonderful wife, Susan, who makes sure that I exercise at least three times a week and eat very healthy meals.

CM: How frequently are you doing concerts and can you give me a few dates that you are doing after Houston?

TB: These days I do about 100 dates a year so which is a very civilized schedule to keep up and I will be taking most of the holidays off but look forward to performing with Lady Gaga on New Year's Eve in Las Vegas as that will be something special to look forward to and a great way to start the New Year.

CM: Are you still painting and any exhibitions coming up?

TB: Yes, I try to paint or sketch every day so am always in a creative zone between art and music. I just did an exhibition at the Lotos Club in New York City. But I am most thrilled by the fact that three of my paintings are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. I can hardly believe that has happened!

CM: What is your daily regime that keeps you going?

TB: Again, as I mentioned before, I try to exercise several days a week in the morning and then I usually paint in the afternoons when I am at home in New York City and then my wife Susan and I will go out a few nights a week to events in the city.  When I am on the road, it's a pretty regimented schedule with  an afternoon rehearsal, an early dinner before I perform that evening and then I usually travel the next morning to the next city.

CM: Do you have any plans to retire?

TB: I get asked that question quite often and I usually respond, "Retire to what?" I've been fortunate that I have been able to make a living doing the two things I love the most — singing and painting so I can honestly say that I feel like I have never worked a day in my life.

 "I get asked that question quite often and I usually respond, 'Retire to what?' " 

CM: Any new albums in the planning stages?

TB: Well, I hope to do another jazz album with Lady Gaga and I have so many ideas for new album projects so I hope to have a chance to get them all done. My personal goal is that I would like to keep singing if possible until I am 100.

CM: What do you think gives your songs and your style such a timeless aspect that attracts fans in all age groups?

TB: In anything that lasts and is timeless it's always about craftsmanship. There was a period of time in the '20s, '30s and '40s where there was a golden age of songwriting and there were masters of song such as the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, all writing very high quality popular songs.

If a song is well written than it becomes something that many singers want to sing and interpret so that keeps them alive forever and it's the kind of music that I have gravitated to throughout my career. When I first got started recording, my premise was to end up with a "hit catalog" and not just to go after hit records that were novelty songs which would hit big for six weeks and then be forgotten.