Bennett Croons, Gaga Booms, Cheek to Cheek at MJF

MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND – I want to live like Tony Bennett; have a career that spans six plus decades with widespread artistic acclaim and wow concert halls with silky rhythm, at nearly 90 years of age.

Whether a hard-core Bennett fan or a “Joe Bari” (his original stage name) novice like myself, Monday’s show with Lady Gaga, at the Montreux Jazz Festival was impressive.

In a surprise appearance, Quincy Jones opened ceremonies with lavish praise for Bennett , only to be outdone by a hammy voice from the grave intro by “The Chairman of the Board” himself.

Bennett kicked off the evening with a solo piece demonstrating his range and delivery and confirming his mastery as a showman.

When Lady Gaga joined onstage for the second piece, the volume went up a notch, and the antics ensued, but the intensity was all Bennett’s.

This dynamic continued throughout the nearly two-hour show with Bennett performing a repertoire of seasoned jazz and big band tunes, alternating solo numbers and Gaga duets.

The two artists were excellent in their own right: Gaga’s vocal versatility, ownership of the jazz tunes and titillation of the Swiss crowd with her brand of show burlesque; Bennett’s ability to faultlessly hit notes and run a range of tunes he either penned or performed 50 years ago and his skill for working a crowd were par none.

But it was not clear the sum of their talents brought added value (in spite of the commercial and critical success of their 2014 collaborative album, “Cheek to Cheek“.

No doubt, part of this success is due to the crooner’s acumen at breathing new life into old standards, and pinning Gaga’s name to Gershwin tunes was canny, if not for everyone – “Not another damn love ballad,” complained a couple of teenage girls leaving the show early.

Overall however the crowd at Stravinsky Hall was surprisingly diverse, from young parents with children dancing, to Uni students shouting out to Gaga, to older diehard fans reminiscing to “I left my heart in San Francisco“.

In “Stranger than Paradise” – a personal favorite – the richness of Bennett’s voice showed that vocal talent can and does mature on the vine.

According to Bennett, who has produced some 57 albums, “If you are creative, you get busier as you get older,” – busier and better than ever.

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What a great night in Montreux. Merci beaucoup!

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