By Amy Li
A diverse genre of music, jazz has been a part of American culture since the turn of the century. Since then, countless artists have defined the field – Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane – adding their own twists, interpretations, experiences to jazz music. Now, with a collaborative album from Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, the catalog of jazz music has increased even further. Cheek to Cheek features the chiefly pop artist Lady Gaga and classical singer Tony Bennett. Contrasting what one might expect from Gaga, Cheek to Cheek’s track list consists of traditional jazz standards, like “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Ellington and Irving Mills, and the title track “Cheek to Cheek” by Irving Berlin. According to the biggest “Little Monster” in Upper Dublin, “Lush Life,” a standard by Billy Strayhorn, is a song worth listening to as well.
This album, from its surprising partnership to Lady Gaga’s departure in style, has made quite a few ripples in the music industry. While many high school aged students may not have had exposure to Tony Bennett or jazz, this high-profile album has definitely exposed them to a new, younger audience. “The songs [from the album] all sounded dated to me in music class, so it was cool to hear songs with modern production that still is fundamentally jazz. I’m glad that Gaga offered this opportunity because jazz seems so different from pop but the lyrics can be so pretty; you can see how they are connected,” explains Deng. Further, Gaga has demonstrated her undeniable talent. In such exposing vocal parts, there is no opportunity for Auto-Tune or hiding behind the instrumentals. Michael Deng expands, “I think this album is a testament to her artistry and hustle. That someone like Tony Bennett believes in her and her music so much to collaborate with her on an entire album must be very humbling… From a business or rebranding perspective, the album is also quite the assertion as you said that she can actually sing and knows what she is doing since most people don’t realize.” In fact, Gaga was classically trained and sang jazz music in high school – something that cannot be said for all pop sensations today. But beyond her important musical education, Bennett’s role in the production of Cheek to Cheek cannot be ignored. After meeting backstage at a charity gala in New York City in 2011, the pair continued to perform and create together. In 2012, Bennett confirmed they were working on a project. However, they did not begin until 2013 due to Gaga’s hip surgery and consequent cancellation of her Born This Way Ball tour. Additionally, Gaga describes the process of creating her latest album as “rebellious” and “liberating.” In this collaboration, she could sing without the stresses of creating mainstream music, doctored for the radio.
Since its release in September, Cheek to Cheek has received predominantly positive reviews, with many critics complimenting Gaga’s impressive voice quality. It received a 64/100 rating on Metacritic. The Guardian and The Times in Great Britain both gave the album 4/5 stars. The Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers claimed that “the biggest surprise on the album is Gaga’s solo vocal on ‘Lush Life,’ a difficult song that has troubled even the most seasoned jazz-pop singers, including Frank Sinatra. Her lower register is warm and her phrasing is heartfelt.”
What’s your opinion on Cheek to Cheek? Take a listen and let us know!