A Conversation With Tony Bennett on Viva Duets
Mike Ragogna: Hello Tony, how are you?
Tony Bennett: I'm good, Mike. Thanks so much. It's always great to talk to you.
MR: You're a sweetheart, I really love our chats. Thank you so much for taking the time. So let's talk about your new album, Viva Duets.
TB: Well I love the one that you just played. (Note: The track was "For Once In My Life," this conversation also broadcast on Solar-Powered KRUU-FM) Marc Anthony is something else. What a performance he gave us on that solo. It was on film also, and it's on the record, and he did a great job on it. The video is terrific. He's quite an entertainer, I'm telling you.
MR: Yeah, this project must have been a lot of fun.
TB Doing all three duet projects has been an adventure as we have traveled to so many countries and cities while we recorded all three CDs. On my first duet, I sang a duet with Juanes and we hit it off immediately -- I think he is fantastic. Then on Duets II, Alejandro Sanz sang with me, a beautiful song by the Latin composer Armando Manzanero of his song, "Yesterday I Heard the Rain." Both tracks and the CDs were received so well in Latin countries that my son Danny, who manages me, came up with the idea of doing an entire CD with Latin artists. He reached out to the record label to see if there might be interest from the artists and the response was so enthusiastic that we decided to go ahead with it. I was just listening to the entire album not too long ago -- I wasn't sure how it would be with my singing in English and the other artists in Spanish or Portuguese -- but it came out wonderful.
MR: Yeah, Tony, it IS good! Now you've sung Italian songs before.
TB: Not too much. I grew up during The Depression, and when my relatives came from Italy, they just said, "Please, speak English. If you speak in Italian you won't get a job," so they discouraged me from studying Italian. To this day, I regret it, because I have an ambition to really learn Italian and sing in Italian but I'm really an American singer. I'm an American jazz singer or jazz pop singer.
MR: What we have in common there is my father is Italian -- Ragogna -- and he didn't want me to learn Italian either for the same reason. But like Spanish, it's one of the romantic languages.
TB: The Italian language is symphonic which makes it so pleasant and beautiful. For instance, my family name is Benedetto -- Bob Hope gave me my name "Bennett. "He said, "That's too long for the marquee." So Benedetto means "The blessed one." That's just one name, but the whole language is like that. They think beauty. They think art. The Italian history is phenomenal. They created fifty different ways to apply themselves to life. They taught all of Europe civilization.
MR: And the Spanish language is a beautiful language too!
TB: Absolutely, Spanish is magnificent and they're beautiful people. They're so warm and friendly, and I've met them now because I met all the artists and their associates. They're so warm and friendly and you can hear it on the record. When they sing, there's so much feeling. They really communicate the songs.
MR: Were you surprised by some of the performances, surprised as in "Wow, I didn't realize a song I'm popular for could sound like that?"
TB: I was completely surprised because at first, as I said, my son came up with the idea and I said, "What have you got me doing now?" My first two albums sold six million copies with all the contemporary artists and then this came about and I was just negative about it, and I was so incorrect, because when I finally met these people and their associates, I couldn't have found more friendship and more warmth. They're the most wonderful people.
MR: And as you said earlier, the Latino community had been fans all along.
TB: Exactly, exactly.
MR: Are there any performances on Viva Duets -- for instance, we listened to your duet on "For Once In My Life" with Marc Anthony -- but are there any other tracks like, maybe, "Just In Time" with Juan Luis Guerra or any of these other ones that...
TB: ...they're all good! Christina Aguilera was wonderful.
MR: And the age-range on this album was pretty wide, you going all the way back to Christina Aguilera, one of those young upstarts! [laughs]
TB: And she's going great! When I first recorded with her, I said, "Who is this gal?" This little girl gets out and she starts singing and she belts out. Her voice hit the back of the wall and I said, "Wait a minute!" She's got a hell of a voice.
MR: Cool. Tony, do you want to do a volume two?
TB: I think I will take a break from duets, but I'll tell you that Ana Carolina who did "The Very Thought Of You" is a wonderful lady. (Note: This track is an exclusive on the Target stores variant of Viva Duets)
MR: Hey Tony, got any other thoughts about Viva Duets partners?
TB: This wonderful very young lady Maria Gadú did "Blue Velvet" with me, and boy did she sing it good. She is just a saint of a young girl. She couldn't believe she was singing with a big American artist. She couldn't get over it, and then Vincentico did "Cold, Cold Heart" and he's just a tremendous guy -- very, very handsome, a very great romantic. And I was fascinated by Vicente Fernandez. We did Dean Martin's song "Return To Me," which he asked that we sing together. We went to Mexico and we went to his home and he is absolutely adored by the latin world. He owns four hundred acres and built two stadiums on this property, one for the rodeos and one for himself. He has all kinds of animals, too. I've never seen anyone like him anywhere. I told him, "I lived in Hollywood for ten years and I never saw any performer that had such a beautiful home and being so active with his life." He did ten films. In his studio, he's got big posters of the films he was in. He's adored by everybody in the Spanish community. And of all things, he is doing a farewell tour and asked me if I would join him to sing our duet on stage at the Prudential Center in Newark.
MR: This may be a harder question, but let me throw it out there. There are challenges with many communities who are minorities, even those heading towards the majority. In your opinion, have we, in this country, made good strides towards equality?
TB: Well, that's actually what you call "growing up." I mean, we're all here on this planet. This is the first country where you have every nationality and every religion and you're allowed to live in this country. In other words, England has one philosophy, Italy has one philosophy, France has one philosophy. Each one is different. Germany has one philosophy, Norway has one philosophy... This is a magnificent country because it's more true to nature, because it's the only country where you're allowed to have every nationality and every religion. Once you're a citizen here, you're allowed to live with everybody in the whole world. This country is ahead of its time.
MR: So we have been making strides towards everybody living together comfortably.
TB: Absolutely. We're all here on this planet.
MR: Tony, what advice you had for new Latino artists?
TB: I just hope they never change. This is personal with me. They're not just going for the quick buck, "Let's just get a hit record and we'll make a lot of money and it'll be forgotten, but so what, it'll make a lot of money." I don't agree with that. I like quality. I like melody and harmony and a lot of soul. When you hear them singing, you say, "Boy that person really feels that song. They mean it." That's the kind of music like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole and singers like that made. The music never dies. It never becomes old-fashioned. I guarantee you, fifty years from now, if you hear a Sinatra record or an Ella Fitzgerald Record or a Nat King Cole record, you're not going to say, "Well that sounds dated now." It's never going to be dated. They stayed with quality, and that's what I believe in. It's worked with me. When I put my box set out, The New York Times reviewed it and they said from 1950 to now, there's not one bad record. They don't think it'll ever happen again, but "...he made a catalog of just good music." It never sounds dated when you do that. That becomes what the record companies adore -- a catalog. That means it'll never stop selling, it'll always sell, and it goes on and on. It's just not forgotten.
MR: One of those people that I would add to your list of legendary people who are making those records, and I know you're just being modest, is Tony Bennett.
TB: Well, you know, the people I mentioned -- Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra and Nat King Cole -- they were my mentors. They were ten years older than I was, so I learned from them. Sinatra became my master. That's the right way to do it. It's a pleasure to be in their company.
MR: How proud they must have been of you, huh?
TB: They were. Sinatra was my greatest fan and he never said anything but good things about me.
MR: She's got a hell of a voice. I have to ask you, what else is coming down the pike for you? More paintings, maybe?
TB: Yeah, I guess my paintings are becoming quite popular on the internet. I've been painting my whole life. I paint every day, and it feels very gratifying that all of a sudden, a lot of people are really interested in my paintings.
MR: Yeah, The Smithsonian has three of your paintings, including your Duke Ellington, right?
TB: That's right.
MR: And you're still touring. What a full life you have.
TB: I know, I'm very content with my life. We played in Norway and Sweden and Spain and Germany and Paris and Rome and all over Europe and then we went all throughout the big states and sections of Canada -- the four great cities in Canada -- and then into Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. So it's just been a magnificent world tour that we just did. We got great reviews everywhere and we were sold out everywhere. I feel very content about my life.
MR: Tony, that's beautiful. Will you be doing a Viva Duets tour?
TB: Well, I will be touring in Latin countries at the end of November for a tour. We will be doing a few cities in Brazil, and then Mexico, Chile, and we close in Puerto Rico so it would be nice if it worked out for some of the artists living in those countries to join me on stage... we will have to see what happens.
MR: Nice. All right, Tony would you give me the honor of wrapping up the show with another of your favorites from this collection? Which would that be for you?
TB: I have to say that I was so impressed by Maria Gardú.
MR: You've got it. Maria Gardú. Would you give me the honor of front announcing it? You know what, don't worry about that, Tony...
TB: No, I'd be happy to do it!
MR: Okay, go ahead. I love this.
TB: This lovely girl who's very young and just starting out couldn't believe that she was singing with me and she was so sweet, I did a sketch of her and she was thrilled with that, so she did this beautiful version with me. Here's Maria Gardú singing "Blue Velvet."
MR: Sweet, thank you so much. The other thing I wanted to ask you before you leave, just as you revealed that story with Maria Gardú, are there any other personal friendships or relationships you created from your various Duets projects that are blossoming now?
TB: Well, I must say that when Lady Gaga was down in Australia, she called me and said, "I want to do an album with you," and I said, "Great!" So we're going to do a big swing jazz album. She and I are going to do a big jazz album together.
MR: Fabulous. Tony, I really appreciate it, all the best, you're always amazing. Thank you much for your time today.
TB: Thank you!
1. The Best Is Yet To Come - with Chayanne
2. The Way You Look Tonight - with Thalía
3. Steppin' Out With My Baby - with Christina Aguilera
4. For Once In My Life - with Marc Anthony
5. Are You Havin' Any Fun? - with Dani Martín
6. The Good Life - with Franco De Vita
7. Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me) - with Gloria Estefan
8. Just In Time - with Juan Luis Guerra
9. Cold, Cold Heart - with Vicentico
10. I Wanna Be Around - with Ricardo Arjona
11. Rags To Riches - with Romeo Santos
12. Return To Me (Regresa A Mí) - with Vicente Fernández
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne