At age 87, Tony Bennett ‘still going strong’

05/18/2014 12:00 AM

05/16/2014 4:15 PM

Tony Bennett could quit singing tomorrow, and he would go down as one of the most respected artists ever. But Bennett, 87, has some unfinished business. “I have an album that’s ready for release,” Bennett said while calling from his Manhattan apartment. “Wait until you hear it.”

The smooth entertainer’s next release is going to turn some ears. His forthcoming project, “Cheek to Cheek,” is a collaboration with Lady Gaga. The disc, which will drop by the end of the year, features songs from the Great American Songbook. “We recorded some great songs by George Gershwin and Cole Porter. She is an amazing singer. I told her we should do a jazz record, and she was so excited. I met her parents, and they love our collaboration.”

No one would blame Bennett if he decided to rest on his laurels. The New York native has had a number of huge hits, including “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches” from his salad days. But what’s perhaps most amazing about Bennett is that he made an extraordinary comeback during the late ’80s. When hair metal was at its bloated zenith, Bennett sang easy-to-digest jazz and pop.

It’s been more than a quarter century since Bennett’s second act commenced. “It’s amazing,” Bennett said. “I think people love to hear great music. People have an appetite for it. They love it and that’s why I’m still going strong.”

His warm tenor still pierces hearts, and his ability to engage the crowd is clearly from another generation. “We, the people I came up with, knew how to entertain,” Bennett said. “There’s an art to it. I just don’t think you see much of it anymore. But I keep it alive. I love to sing. The funny thing is that I’m still learning, even at this age.”

Bennett’s voice has aged beautifully. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve tried to make the right choices to be healthy so I can play wonderful places like the Stiefel Theatre. I can go out and see the people of Kansas for yet another time.”

The 17-time Grammy winner has no plans to retire. “I’m having too much fun to hang it up,” Bennett said. “As long as I’m healthy enough to travel and make my way around stage, I’ll continue doing this. It’s a good time playing these wonderful theaters. I’m a very fortunate man.”

Bennett has given back. He opened the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in New York. It’s his way of paying tribute to the Chairman of the Board.

“Frank Sinatra changed my life,” Bennett said. “He told Life magazine that I was the best singer he ever heard. I was moderately popular then, but I took off and was selling out left and right after that. I’m still selling out. I owe Frank Sinatra something, and I think the something is to keep singing on a stage. He would do it if he was still around. I’ll do it for him.”

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