Tony Bennett doesn’t speak Spanish, and he was not familiar with most of the Latino artists he recorded with for his new album, VIVA Duets.
The 12-track album, out on Monday, includes collaborations with such superstars as Christina Aguilera, Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony, as well as names like Chayanne, Juan Luis Guerra and Thalia. There’s even an English/Spanish duet with Mexican great Vicente Fernandez.
Bennett greeted The Associated Press for a recent interview while surrounded by his paintings in his art studio in Manhattan. He was putting some finishing touches to a watercolor he was working on while whistling the tune Fly Me To The Moon.
You recently turned 86, and you keep going and going. What is the secret of your longevity?
Many people say, “How come you’re not retiring?” I love life so much. There are two things that I love very much: I sing and I paint. It’s really a lifetime study, so you keep learning from it. My ambition, if I get lucky enough, is to attempt to learn more and more and get better as I get older.
Talk about “VIVA Duets.”
I had no idea what to expect and what I found [is] it’s kind of what they taught me in school –— never to compromise and just do quality. And that’s completely different than the outside world. The record companies want the latest fashion — rap or disco or whatever is coming out next. And I never did that. I went along with my teachers: Never do anything unless it has quality.
You recorded the songs in person with them. You even traveled to Vicente Fernandez’s ranch in Mexico.
It was fantastic! He’s the favorite. They treat him like Frank Sinatra in the Latin countries. He had a beautiful recording studio right on the grounds, and we recorded right there. We had lunch with him and his wife and his people; my wife was with me. They were so gregarious. I said, “You have all these animals in your ranch, it’s fantastic.” And “Oh, you like it?” Someone came over with a small dog to my wife and said, “Here, this is for you [laughs].” “Thank you, but we have a dog.” The dog was adorable though.
It’s obvious that younger singers have a lot to learn from you. Have you found yourself learning from them?
Yeah, every one of them. The one thing about the Latin singers, the majority of music that Latinos love, that the public loves of the Latinos, is they sing from the heart. And that doesn’t go away. That makes the record never sound old-fashioned. There’s some gimmick that’s popular for 10 weeks and then forgotten. [But here] there was so much feeling in their performances that it will always sound good. Twenty years from now the same record will sound good because it has the feeling.