Update: March 22, 2013: According to the Associated Press, Bennett is heading into the studio with Lady Gaga to record a "big swing album." In the 2011 interview below, Bennett offered his appreciation of Gaga's talent and enormous potential.
Tony Bennett recently joined us for an extended interview at his art studio overlooking Central Park in New York. In Part 1, he talked about his recording with the late Amy Winehouse, which would turn out to be her last. Here, in the second part of our conversation, he talks about subjects ranging from Lady Gaga, to his own retirement, to his involvement with AARP Foundation's Drive to End Hunger.
Q: Another young singer who has gotten a lot of attention is Lady Gaga. There is a real musical quality to what she does, both to her singing and to her playing.
A: This is only my opinion, OK? I think if she keeps going the way she's going now, that she will become bigger than Elvis Presley. She will become the main rage of the entertainment world. I've never met anybody, I don't care what age, who is more intelligent about what to do as a performer than Lady Gaga. We did a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation and I couldn't believe the audience's reaction to Lady Gaga.
She did "The Lady Is a Tramp" with me. It was so fantastic. She showed up in the most gorgeous dress I've ever seen. On Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe — the most beautiful dress I've ever seen on a human being! And she had a wild green wig on. But when she went into it, "Bam!" The song just took off. So she's absolutely brilliant with what she does. She's a very, very magnificent performer and she does know how to sing, and she does know how to play the piano. I see great things for her. She has no boundaries and she knows what she's doing. You know, I've performed with everybody, being 85 years old. I've seen it all. And I'll tell you, I've never seen anybody that intelligent when it comes to knowing how to perform properly.
Q: You have really helped to increase, enliven and deepen people's awareness of The Great American Songbook. I wonder if you could say what that body of work means to you and what is so important and enriching about it?
This country did something that the French did around the turn of the 20th century. In France, it was a beautiful renaissance moment. There was Ravel and Debussy. And for painters there was Monet and Lautrec and Van Gogh. It was a romantic period that will never happen again in France.
And in the United States in the '20s, '30s, and '40s, it was Irving Berlin. It was Gershwin. It was Johnny Mercer from Savannah, Ga. It was Cole Porter from Indiana. The very best, he's like way up there as far as the most intelligent popular songs that were ever written. I play in China, Japan, Australia, in Europe. Everybody knows those songs. I just played Istanbul. They knew all those songs. And that's the contribution that The American Songbook is. What a contribution it is to the world. It's our renaissance period. It was the best era. And we own it. That's ours.