First broadcast January 27, 2012 on PBS
Last September 85 year old Tony Bennett released his album Duets II performing pop standards with a wide range of duet partners. It became the first #1 hit album of his more than 60 year recording career. This episode of PBS' long-running series Great Performances digs deeper into the creation of the album while showing in studio performances of the songs. Artists are interviewed about what it is like to work with Tony Bennett and comments from producer Phil Ramone weave the individual segments together. It is a perfect opportunity to look deeper into the work of a pop music legend.
Beautifully Filmed In Studio Performances
The in studio performances are beautifully filmed. A decision was made in recording this album that, instead of mixing the singing parts together, the duets would all be performed and recorded live. It is inspiring to hear Tony Bennett say at age 85 he will travel to the locations of his duet partners. One of those journeys is to Italy to record at Andrea Bocelli's home.
Due to the fact that the duet performances were both recorded and filmed, this project captured one of Amy Winehouse's final performances before her untimely death. It also allows us to see a unique view of the parade of artists who sing with Tony Bennett. There is an intimacy to the one on one interaction that is often inspiring. Tony Bennett's respect for such a wide range of talent from Lady Gaga to Willie Nelson encourages viewers to open their own musical minds to hear what these great performers have to offer.
Engaging Insights Into the Recording Process
The Duets II special gives many insights into the recording process itself. Producer Phil Ramone speaks about Tony Bennett's reputation for doing only three or four takes and the pressure that puts on his duet partners to step up to the plate. Multiple duet partners speak about the process of choosing the songs to sing. We get a deeper insight into how Tony Bennett chooses to engage with individual duet partners. He is very free with compliments about the other performers. Of country singer Faith Hill he says that she is like a female Frank Sinatra by always performing more authoritatively and just a little bit better than anyone else.
The presence of Tony Bennett does seem to work magic in the vocals that come from a wide range of his duet partners. Carrie Underwood's vocals on "It Had To Be You" sound gorgeous and timeless. Lady Gaga proves she is a truly accomplished vocalist well outside her dance pop comfort zone. Willie Nelson reminds us all what a brilliant interpretive singer he can be while also contributing a guitar solo.
- Tony Bennett and Andrea Bocelli - "Stranger In Paradise"
- Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga - "The Lady Is a Tramp"
- Tony Bennett and Queen Latifah - "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)"
- Tony Bennett and Willie Nelson - "On the Sunny Side Of the Street"
- Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood - "It Had To Be You"
An American Pop Music Legend
Tony Bennett is a truly unique pop music legend. He is the oldest person to ever have a #1 album on the Billboard charts. Perhaps one of the most impressive points made by this Duets II film is that at age 85 Tony Bennett is fully engaged in creating new, artistically engaging music. Duets II is not a tribute to a talent that is in the past. It is a project by an artist who is still creating some of the best music of his career. Multiple duet partners express that Tony Bennett is a man who truly loves the work that he does and is still finding new joy in his music. That is the spirit that shines through here. This is a portrait to treasure.