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When Tony met k.d.: musical legend Tony Bennett talks about collaborating with k.d. lang on their smash tour and his new CD. (Music).

Tony Bennett thrives on discovery and collaboration. There's no need for the legendary vocalist to work as hard as he continues to--and yet he does. "There's no other way for me to exist," he says with a wide grin. "The day I get lazy or bored is the day I pack it in and stop making music."

This past summer, he had "the time of [his] life" touring with k.d. lang, whom he has continually gushed over in the press. It was the perfect precursor to his latest studio offering, Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues (Columbia).

When he started preproduction for the project, he scoured music shops around New York, buying every scratchy old record he could find. "This album had to be authentic. The arrangements had to capture the texture and essence of blues," he says. "So I studied the great classics of the genre. I searched for the songs that would be both fun and a challenge to perform. It was an exhilarating process."

Once the songs were selected and arranged, Bennett set out to find duet partners that would both complement the material and push him to explore new areas of his own voice. He wound up in the studio with such varied artists as Sheryl Crow, who helped with a stirring rendition of "Good Morning, Heartache" (made famous by Billie Holiday); Natalie Cole, on "Stormy Weather"; lang, on "Keep the Faith, Baby"; Stevie Wonder, on "Everyday (I Have the Blues)"; and Kay Starr, on "Blue and Sentimental," among others. Bennett says he "reveled in the diversity and unique colors" each artist brought to the table, but he says he also enjoyed seeing how each artist adjusted to his standard practice of recording each song live and often in one take.

"It made the sessions electric," he says. "When you record like that, anything can happen. You're traveling through the song and you're experiencing the emotion, the feeling of the song without the cushion of stopping and starting. It makes for a more honest performance."

One artist who didn't have to adjust too much to Bennett's method of making music was lang. She made a guest appearance on his Grammy-winning album MTV Unplugged in 1994, a precursor performance to the duo's national tour during the summer of 2001. "I will never turn down the chance to sing with Tony Bennett," lang says. "He's one of the most exciting, generous people I've had the privilege to work with."

When Bennett invited lang to join him on the road, she says, she scuttled plans to "simply stay home and write music and relax. I remember pinching myself when the offer [to tour with him] came. It was too good to be true."

For Bennett, working with lang has been a chance to "collaborate with one of the great voices of this generation. She's a wonder to witness onstage."

It also allowed Bennett to gain exposure to lang's loyal gay and lesbian following, not that it even fazed him. "Life is too short to worry about whether someone is gay or straight," he says. It's about what's in your heart. Period. And the beauty of music is that it truly is universal and unifying. That's what matters most to me. That people can come together to enjoy good music."

Flick is talent editor at Billboard.

Find more on Tony Bennett's new album and previous coverage of k.d. lang at www.advocate.com
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Article Details
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Author:Flick, Larry
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 22, 2002
Words:577
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