In several skits on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” actor Alec Baldwin has spoofed Tony Bennett as an over-exuberant optimist who thinks everyone’s either a “great gal” or a “super guy.”

If you’re lucky enough to spend 15 minutes talking to the 87-year-old crooner, you’ll find the skits are not that far from the truth.

Consider his comments about Lady Gaga, the fashion-forward pop singer who is 60 years his junior.

“I met her backstage (after her performance), and I just said ‘Why don’t we make an album together?’ ” Bennett said from his apartment in Manhattan. “When I heard her sing, she just knocked me out. She plays a great piano. When people hear the album we’re doing, I think they’ll be surprised at how wonderful she is.”

Bennett added that he and Baldwin are “great friends” and that he loves the skits, even though some have lewd, suggestive dialogue.

“I told him (Baldwin) ‘You really lifted my career up with that,’ ” Bennett said. “Everyone seems to like it.”


Bennett, who’ll sing at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium Saturday, doesn’t need any help with his 65-year-long music career. Since recording his first big hit – “Because of You” in 1951 – he has won 17 Grammy Awards, had 24 songs in the Top 40, and has performed with everyone from Count Basie and Duke Ellington to Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin. He’s performed for 10 U.S. Presidents, ranging from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.

During the 1950s and ’60s Bennett’s hits included “Rags to Riches,” “I Wanna Be Around,” “The Good Life” and his best-known song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He’s known as a devoted interpreter of American pop and jazz standards, from composers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

He’s sold more than 10 million albums in the last 10 years alone. His album “Duets II” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart in 2011. It featured collaborations on pop standards with Winehouse, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, Michael Bublé and Franklin.

“I could have retired 17 years ago and lived very comfortably for the rest of my life, but I find I’m sold out more now than when I was younger,” said Bennett. “I sold out in China, France, Spain, Norway, all these great foreign countries.”

His album with Lady Gaga, tentatively titled “Cheek to Cheek,” is due out late this year.

“We’re doing songs from the Great American Songbook,” said Bennett. “Some people call it old music. I call it great music.”


When he’s not singing, Bennett paints. He gets up with the sun most mornings so he can set up an easel in Central Park and paint before the park gets too crowded. While doing the interview for this story, he said he was in the middle of painting a portrait of a friend as a present.

Bennett grew up in the Astoria section of Queens, New York City. As a teenager he worked as a waiter and sang, then enlisted in the Army during World War II when he was 18. He saw combat in Europe and was among the troops that liberated a concentration camp in Landsberg, Germany.

He used the G.I. Bill to help pay for theater and music studies, and by the early 1950s he was a fixture on the radio.

Bennett said he has no thought of retiring. Not just because people still pay to see him and buy his records, but because he feels his singing can “make people happy.”

“When I see how much people in the theater enjoyed themselves, it makes me content,” said Bennett. “The more we can make people feel good, the better off we’ll all be.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or Twitter: RayRouthier

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