• Bourne's Montreal: Tony And Gaga

    July 25, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    I've lost count of all the times I've enjoyed concerts of Tony Bennett, but he's always best in Montreal: he's often said he appreciates how greatly the festival treats artists.

    And not only the artistry of Tony Bennett the singer - also the artistry of Anthony Benedetto, the painter.  Spectra, producers of the Montreal jazzfest, presented last year a gallery showing of Tony's paintings.  They also  offer in, the festival's artshop, lithographs of Tony's portrait of Louis Armstrong.


    Best of all the Tony Bennett performances I've attended through the years happened at FIJM 2004.  He was so happy to be honored with that year's prix Ella Fitzgerald.  He's one of the very few artists with an open invitation to perform at every festival.  He especially loves the acoustics of the big Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.

    I was sorry I was so involved in the finale of the festival's Canadian band contest that I couldn't come to this year's show — but then …

    "Come to the soundcheck," said Tony on the phone.  "We're gonna surprise everyone tonight.  Lady Gaga is gonna sing with me.  It's a secret!"

    Photo by Patrick Beaudry
    Photo by Patrick Beaudry

    Tony and Gaga have a whole album of standards forthcoming this fall, called Cheek to Cheek. Tony loved how much Gaga loved singing "The Lady Is a Tramp" on his album Duets II. "She loves jazz," said Tony.  "And she's really good!"

    Backstage I came, and they came.  Tony in a green track suit.  Gaga in what looked like a black cocktail dress — for a party on Mars.  Tight.  Black.  With a swirling drape of black from shoulder to shoulder.  "I want you to meet--" said Tony.  "I know who he is," said Gaga and kissed me.

    I've rarely encountered anyone in show biz so immediately and downright radiantly nice as Gaga.  It's no wonder she gets along with the nicest guy in show biz.  And where she gets it was also evident.  Gaga's very sweet mother was also hanging at the soundcheck.

    Photo by Patrick Beaudry
    Photo by Patrick Beaudry

    They sang with Tony's quartet, with Mike Renzi now at the piano, two duets.  "But Beautiful."  Which was indeed beautiful.   And a whirlwind of "It Don't Mean a Thing."  Which was indeed swinging.  I don't know Gaga's pop music at all, but her chops are fantastic.  She can project a swooping chorus to the balcony.  And she can sing in a hush, like the song she'd be singing solo, "Lush Life."  I marveled especially at a very touching moment of the Billy Strayhorn lyric.

    No press was allowed at the soundcheck or even during the performance that night, but someone in the balcony with a cell camera posted "Lush Life" the next day on You Tube.

    When she sang with Tony, Gaga wore a white almost wedding-like dress.

    When she sang the next night at the Montreal hockey rink, Gaga wore a blue octopus.

    "Who's been kissing you?" someone teased me in the press room after I'd come from the soundcheck.  She'd apparently left a scarlet lipstick kiss on my grizzled cheek.

    "It's a secret," I said.  And trembled, like a gawky teenager.


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