Photo: The Incomparable Tony Bennett || By Douglas Heye | After living through a year-plus without live music, fans showed up to Thursday night’s concert with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, the second of two sold-out shows billed as “One Last Time” at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, with palpable excitement.
If you’re unfamiliar with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett as a duo, they may seem an odd couple — but they’re not new. Their acclaimed duet album of standards, “Cheek to Cheek,” recorded in 2014, was followed by a tour, so last week’s shows were a reunion of sorts.
I’ve been a Tony Bennett fan my whole life. At a young age, I was captivated by the jazz standards he, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald made famous. I was listening to him well before he reached the 1990s MTV generation on “MTV Unplugged.”
I have seen Bennett in concert several times. I’m also a live music fanatic. Not being able to go to concerts has been one of the toughest parts for me in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Records and CDs, or, more and more these days, digital or streaming, just aren’t the same. A last-minute, mid-week impulse trip to New York to see this show seemed like a rational decision after more than a year with no concerts and my favorite venues closed.
The Great American Songbook is Bennett’s wheelhouse. He has been singing those songs professionally for 80 years now, more and more in duet formats. In this context, a Bennett devotee might expect Lady Gaga to come off as more a curiosity than a duet partner. I admit that I did, and I was totally wrong. As Bennett has said about her, she is a jazz singer. A great one.