Bennett and Gaga celebrate jazz music "One Last Time"
On Sunday, Nov. 28, CBS aired Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s live performance at Radio City Music Hall, recorded back in August. The show consisted of standard jazz classics from both their 2014 collaboration Cheek to Cheek, as well as their latest Grammy-nominated compilation of Cole Porter classic covers on their 2021 album, Love for Sale, and served as Tony Bennett’s final performance.
Lady Gaga opened the show with “Luck Be a Lady,” originally performed by Frank Loesser. This song has become a staple in Gaga’s repertoire, as it has been performed multiple times during her Jazz and Piano shows in Las Vegas. Gaga plays with her voice throughout this song. She holds some long notes with a lot of vibrato and clarity in her voice, then can close off her vowels and make them nasally, but still very resonant and beautiful, or she will throw in a growl at the end of a phrase. These stylistic choices she makes with her voice can add some variety to these songs that have been performed for thousands of years and keep them interesting and sounding fresh. These choices do not take away from beauty in her voice and do not sound like a vocal failure, a technique that is not easy to incorporate.
Gaga closed her set with “New York, New York” and showcased the way jazz music can flow. She added words in order to celebrate what also happened to be Bennett’s birthday. With these nuances, the band played a heavy role in focusing on Gaga and what move she was going to make and was able to follow her with ease, making it seem like every move seemed planned, when everything was very organic. It made for an engaging performance, and a fantastic finale.
Focus was a key part of the night. Tony Bennett followed Gaga’s set with a solo performance of classic jazz standards. He opened with “Watch What Happens,” originally performed by Michel Legrand. There was a lot of anticipation behind Bennett’s performance as he has been battling Alzheimer’s disease since 2014, and while he has trouble remembering names of people he has worked with for year, he is able to “flip a switch” when the music starts and remember the lyrics and melodies. While he had a couple of lyrical slip ups, it took nothing away from the joy and emotion of watching Bennett shine on stage. The band had to be careful though, because if Tony switched up a verse or a chorus, they had to be able to follow him. But Bennett and the band together made for a strong performance. Bennett’s vocal quality for his age was pristine. He absolutely crushed his performance, sounding as fresh as he did 40 years ago, and hitting notes that were consistent, had volume and conveyed emotion.
Bennett ended his set with “Fly Me to the Moon,” and this was the most emotional song of the night as it was the last song he will perform solo on stage. This was the perfect song to salute Bennett’s career as the song has lyrics such as “Let me sing forevermore.” It made for a performance of Bennett thanking the audience for decades of song, and the passion in Bennett’s voice showed it was the one he wanted to be the song he sang one last time.
When Lady Gaga joined the stage for their joint set, something very interesting happened. They opened with “The Lady Is a Tramp,” which was previously recorded by the two in 2012 and had that very conversational element, which can be hard to maintain when singing with someone in Tony’s condition. Throughout the song, you can see Gaga focusing on Bennett to make sure he comes in for his lines and does not leave any noticeable fillers in the song. In the second verse, Tony forgets to come in with his following line “The beach is divine” after Gaga sings “Sometimes I go to Coney Island.” Gaga was able to fill right in and ad lib the line for Tony and can continue the performance with no hesitation. This made for an interesting performance to watch and truly showed what can happen in jazz music and live performances in general, and how you must be ready for things like that to occur.
Overall, this special was the perfect tribute to recognize a lifelong career of performing for Tony Bennett. It was emotional, raw and overall beautiful. Gaga did not overshadow her role in being a collaborator and wanted to make sure Bennett was acknowledged by all members of the audience to show her thankfulness for them working together.
"One Last Time: An Evening with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga" is available to stream on Paramount+.