Tony On TV

Columbia Records is celebrating Tony Bennett's 80th birthday with an album release and marketing strategy worthy of the milestone.

Columbia Records is celebrating Tony Bennett's 80th birthday with an album release and marketing strategy worthy of the milestone.

"Tony Bennett: Duets/An American Classic," arriving Sept. 26 from RPM Records/Columbia Records, features Bennett in superstar duets with Bono, Michael Bublé, Elvis Costello, the Dixie Chicks, Juanes, Billy Joel, Elton John, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, John Legend, Paul McCartney, Tim McGraw, George Michael, Sting, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder.

Bennett selected the album's 18 songs. They include such classics as "Rags to Riches," "The Good Life" and "I Wanna Be Around," while Bennett's son and manager, Danny Bennett, chose the acts.

The only solo performance on the album is, aptly, Bennett reprising his signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," accompanied by pianist Bill Charlap.

Reflecting on the duet performances, the singer says: "They are all good. The one that was a bull's-eye was the Barbra Streisand record ["Smile"]. The Dixie Chicks shocked me. It was the first time they ever did a swinging record [on "Lullaby of Broadway"]. They were right in there."

"What I like about the artists that were chosen by Danny is that they are all institutional artists; they all do big business," Bennett adds. "They're not flash in the pans, they are not going to die out. They are all going to be remembered through the years."

"And they are all different," he notes. "That makes a good duet album. If you sound alike, you don't know who's singing. In this case with k.d. lang, Diana Krall and Stevie Wonder, they all have a different sound."

In contrast to other duet recordings, each artist performed live with Bennett during sessions produced by Phil Ramone. The album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles; Bennett Studios in Englewood, N.J.; and Abbey Road Studios in London.

Bennett's quartet, which accompanies him on tour, played on the album, with additional orchestrations and arrangements by Jorge Calandrelli. Danny Bennett was executive producer and also audio engineer on the sessions.

Columbia executives are ecstatic with the result. "Obviously this is an incredible record," Columbia chairman Steve Barnett says. "It makes the hair on your neck stand up. And when you see Tony interact with Bono and McCartney and the Chicks and the rest in the [electronic press kit], you'll see why this is such a special project. But it's a massively important record for us for so many reasons: It's so contemporary and so cool. And look at the artists working with him, and what greater feeling can you get?"

The centerpiece of the album's marketing campaign is a fall NBC-TV special, "Tony Bennett: An American Classic," directed by Rob Marshall, director of the film "Chicago." Target will present it in a major corporate sponsorship agreement.

Also planned: a major reissue campaign of Bennett's catalog by Sony/Legacy, a new art book of his original paintings and a documentary on his life and career, due in 2007. Clint Eastwood will executive-produce the film.

Bennett's various partners on "Duets" permits Columbia to work several radio formats, the label's marketing manager Rocco Lanzilotta notes. "We're going to adult contemporary, triple-A, even Spanish, because of the track ["The Shadow of Your Smile"] with Juanes."

Meanwhile, AC WLTW New York is hosting Bennett's first New York appearance in more than two years on the release date at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. Natalie Cole will open the station's annual "One Nite With Lite" show, which will celebrate Bennett's career and likely feature "Duets" guests.