The timeless cool of Cole Porter, muse of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga
Hearing Tony Bennett’s son and longtime manager, Danny Bennett, a friendship ensued between his flagship father and mod-pop singer Lady Gaga after their debut duet album, “Cheek to Cheek.” The Buddies always came back to Tony’s ‘Cole Porter Medley’ of 1975 as the gold standard of American song and the model for an upcoming collaboration. “Gaga liked this idea and thought they should reinvent it,” notes Danny Bennett. “They didn’t end up doing just that, but a creative conversation started.”
The duo’s dialogue about Porter as the master of American song comes to fruition in their new collaborative album, “Love for Sale,” a collection of Porter covers. The lion’s share of the attention goes to the fact that the record is destined to be the last in Bennett’s long career, as he terminates his professional duties several years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But not to be lost in the middle of the farewell is how the project celebrates the eternal cool of the man many consider the best songwriter of his century or any century, and why delving into a single writer’s catalog is all the splash a big guy like Bennett needed to get out.
On Bennett’s 1975 album “Life is Beautiful”, the majestic crooner, plunged into the throes of nuanced jazz phrasing and swirling arrangements, traveled the epic “Cole Porter Medley” for nearly 12 minutes in a whirlwind of shadow and intensity. With the theatricality of a finely tuned actor and the bruised emotionality of a rejected lover, the medley roller coaster of scholarly fervor and reserved – but passionate – feelings exist in each of Bennett’s vocal tricks, shifting from thoughtful. “What Is This Thing Called Love” to the flashy “Get Out of Town” with energy, tenderness and elegance at every beat.
That’s what Bennett did, making it so easy and sad, in 1975. And that’s what he does again in “Love for Sale”, with the believable and jazzy Lady Gaga also bringing innate meaning. of why Cole Porter remains the standard bearer of American song.
As a lyricist and songwriter, Porter’s voice is one of cosmopolitan sophistication and deeply etched emotion, and the precocious blend of jazz, blues, ragtime, artistic song and show-tune sensibilities. The clever demeanor of Porter’s witty, urban and hip words surely stems from his upbringing as a gifted kid in the middle of America – Indiana, to be precise – who, even coming from a wealthy family, was still a aspiring to ecumenical dignity and the boldness of metropolises like Manhattan and London.
The chapters and verses of Porter’s Great American Songbook are dizzying, sarcastic, and sprinkled in all the right places: “Begin the Beguine”, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, “I Happen to Like New York”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and, of course, the brassy “I Get a Kick Out of You.” So many of these silly, searing songs reveal Porter’s zesty connectivity – or his melancholy closeness – to first with the golden age of the Great White Way It was a Broadway which he reinforced with “Anything Goes” (1934), “Du Barry Was a Lady” (1939) and “Panama Hattie” (1940), before cross the golden age of Hollywood with musicals such as “Rosalie” (1937), “The Pirate” (1947) and “The High Society” (1955).
Each of these songs encourages and provokes its participants to dance, drink and act decadently, but with a certain “class” to accompany the banter. Just ask Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers as they spin, hum and sip champagne cocktails to Porter tunes throughout 1934’s “The Gay Divorcee.” And when a Porter-based song character is not allowed to party or act against convention, he sings a song such as “Don’t Fence Me In”. With that, Cole Porter is the voice of freedom, going wild and letting it fly.
However, living his life as a gay man – locked in by a conventional marriage to her best friend, with her emotions and public desires put in the closet – was an extra layer of painful subtext. You don’t have to read a biography to get a sense of an innate sense of loneliness in its lyrics and music. What could be sadder than the deep desire and lost connection conveyed in Porter’s songs such as “Night and Day” (“In the boom of roaring traffic, in the silence of my lonely room, I think of you”), ” So in Love “(” Even without you my arms cross around you “) and” I focus on you “(” When fortune screams at me “No! No! Only song”)?
The mix of love and life, free or unrequited, has been cool catnip for the finest and most diverse performers of music.
Hearing Ray Charles and Betty Carter as a duo on a flashy 1961 version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” is no more or less moving than hearing Simply Red’s Mick Hucknell do the same. song that a sad and moving soliloquy in 1987. It was helped to put together the line of “Don’t Fence Me In”, whether the cowboys were Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1944 or David Byrne in 1990 – the latter on Porter’s newest and finest of all tributes, “Red Hot + Blue,” the first of several compilation albums brought together by the Red Hot Organization to raise money for charities related to HIV / AIDS .
“Red Hot + Blue” opened their own box of worms when it came to how and who did Cole better or better. On this modern album classic, U2’s “Night and Day” doubled its haunting chorus, Bono feeling an even more isolated version of Sinatra’s introspective sermon. Yet hearing the chairman of the board do it himself with his own intimate brand of alcoholic boredom is doubly dynamic. Speaking of Sinatra, her take on “Well, did you Evah!” with Celeste Holm during the musical film “High Society” is as hilarious as it is complex criticism of the upper classes. Having two punk rock icons like Deborah Harry and Iggy Pop made it more subversive. Then there was “Red Hot + Blue’s” raucous “Miss Otis Regrets,” performed by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, a new take on an tune that had been performed, slowly, like a chamber soul moment in 1970 by Labelle (with the recently deceased Sarah Dash). You can also bet on your preference for the mannered version of Ethel Waters’ art song from “You’re Driving Me Crazy” in 1934, against the raucous R&B of Van Morrison and the jazz organ lord Joey DeFrancesco. covering the same song in 2018.
Those who have chosen to invest their hearts and souls with imaginations to pay homage to Cole Porter’s best songs in great volume often see magnificent dividends. Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sings the Cole Porter Song Book”, expertly orchestrated in 1956, the first album ever released by the Verve label, set the standard for what vocal jazz could be.
An avowed worshiper of Ella and Cole’s altar, Tony Bennett has long known the power of Porter’s bubbling elegance, not to mention the majestic and improvised aplomb of Fitzgerald. This is the street where his own 1975 “Cole Porter Medley” lives, an intersection worth revisiting where the Lady and the Crooner were concerned on “Love for Sale”.
The creative conversation of “Love for Sale” – whether on the cool big band of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, Gaga’s daringly Broadway “Let’s Do It” or Tony’s powerfully inventive solo “Just One” of These things “- is the very definition of what makes Cole Porter relevant and fair. While it is no secret that Mr. Bennett is 95 years old and he disagrees with the scourge of Alzheimer’s you wouldn’t know from the sound and spirit of “Love for Sale.” That’s what Porter’s emotion, acuteness and energy can do. Whether it’s swan song As the sunset of Tony Bennett’s career, or as an elegant step along the way, Cole Porter’s lyrics and music are perfection, night and day.