Tony Bennett & Diana Krall on Gershwin Duets Album 'Love Is Here to Stay' & Their Mutual Admiration

Mark Seliger
Diana Krall and Tony Bennett

For Danny Bennett, hearing his famous dad Tony sing the tunes of George and Ira Gershwin has been a lifelong perk.

"The great American Songbook was obviously standard fare in my household growing up and the Gershwins were invariably at the top of the Bennett family playlist," Bennett, who is also president and CEO of Verve Label Group, proudly shares. "I can recall many nights my brother and I would sit at the top of our basement stairs, where we had a studio, and listen to the live strains of Tony jamming with the likes of Stan Getz, Bobby Hackett, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. So now that I'm the keeper of the flame for many of those artists, it is an honor and a privilege beyond my wildest dreams."

The younger Bennett has been overlooking his father's career as his manager since 1979. But this year he has the distinct honor of releasing a Tony Bennett album on the very label once inhabited by those aforementioned jazz greats with Love Is Here to Stay, the long-awaited duets album between Tony and renowned jazz leader Diana Krall. The pair first performed together at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1999 when Tony asked Diana to come play piano for his performance on the Gershwin favorite "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (their updated rendition is a highlight of this new LP); since then, they've recorded together on albums like 2001's Playin' With My Friends and 2006's Duets: An American Classic.

But this 12-track set marks the duo's first full-length collaboration, one that both artists have tried to coalesce for more than a decade. Produced by Dae Bennett and Bill Charlap featuring the acclaimed Bill Charlap Trio on backup, Love Is Here to Stay is a revelation. At 92, Bennett hasn't lost an ounce of power in his voice (he's essentially a wizard at this point) and Krall continues to prove why she is the measuring stick for jazz vocals in the modern age, complementing her partner organically on evergreen Gershwin standards such as "S'Wonderful," "I Got Rhythm" and "I've Got A Crush On You."

On Wednesday (Sept. 12) night, a concert was held at the prestigious Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center to celebrate the release of Love Is Here to Stay. And an amazing thing happened: Shortly after Bennett and Krall wrapped up performing their show-closing version of "Fascinating Rhythm" -- a song Bennett kicked off his career with in 1949 under the pseudonym Joe Bari -- an adjudicator for the Guinness Book of World Records joined them onstage to verify Bennett as the title holder for "the longest time between the release of an original recording and a re-recording of the same single by the same artist" with an incredible 68 years, 342 days as of Aug. 3, 2018. It was a perfect way to kick off the campaign for this very special album, one that has the potential to unite six generations of music lovers -- a feat of rarified air, no doubt.

Billboard had the opportunity to catch a few moments with both Krall and Bennett to discuss their plans to ensure the great legacy of the Gershwins is here to stay.

I'd love to hear about how you were first introduced to the music of the Gershwins.

Diana Krall: I was introduced to the Gershwins at home in Nanaimo BC, Canada. My dad was an avid record collector so I grew up with the great American Songbook interpreted by many different artists and through film as well.

Tony Bennett: Well, as a kid I loved to sing "Swanee" for my family. Every Sunday my Italian-American family would gather at our house and after a big meal everyone would gather around in a circle and my brother, sister and I would perform for them. "Swanee" was always a big hit and I would get down on my knee just like Al Jolson. It was during those Sunday afternoons that I learned how much I loved performing for people and making them happy so from that early age I had already decided to become an entertainer.

Diana, how did you first discover the music of Tony Bennett?

Diana Krall: Again, I heard Tony Bennett at home as my parents were fans of his but then I discovered the two records he made with Bill Evans and that changed everything for me; as well as my musical desires as both a jazz pianist and singer. I did not think of myself as a jazz singer as much as a storyteller and Tony and Bill together has it all. How two unique artists could reach the emotional depth of feeling was groundbreaking musically and artistically innovative. Those records are the meaning of life for me like Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue. You have to listen to them in their original sequence, and in their entirety as a complete piece, the way the records were originally made.

Tony, when did you first hear of Diana Krall?

Tony Bennett: Early on she did a version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which was my first recording for Columbia Records, and it got my attention as she did a wonderful rendition of the song. I first met Diana at the Montreal Jazz Festival when she was starting to really make a name for herself and I had heard her music and loved what she was doing. I asked her on the spot if she would consider playing piano on a song during my set that night and she said yes and we did "They Can't Take That Away From Me." And here we are together, 20 years later, recording the same song for the new album.

Tony, Diana mentioned her love for your work with Bill Evans. In fact, throughout your career you've always been drawn to such amazing piano players. Basie. Brubeck. Ralph Sharon. Bill Charlap. Diana. What is it about a piano player that makes you want to work with them?

Tony Bennett: As a singer your relationship with your piano player is of paramount importance as they are the anchor to every performance and I have been so fortunate to have worked with so many master pianists throughout my career. And the two albums that I made with Bill Evans are recordings that mean so much to me. In fact, the first time I heard Lady Gaga sing live I loved her voice but also thought she was - and still is - a terrific piano player.

Tony, you made your debut on record with a cover of "Fascinating Rhythm." What was it about that song that gave you the confidence to have it be your first recording? Also, how did you come up with the name Joe Bari?

Bennett: I remember at the time - I was working with George Simon who was the editor at Metronome magazine - that this was the first record I ever made and I wanted to make sure I chose a quality song so I knew there was no taking a wrong turn with Gershwin and I loved the pacing of "Fascinating Rhythm." I am very happy with that decision as it's remained my premise throughout my career to record songs that will last. I had chosen the name Joe Bari - Bari for the region in Italy - and not long after I made the "Fascinating Rhythm" recording I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to Bob Hope through Pearl Bailey who put me in her show at the Village Inn. Bob Hope liked my singing and asked me to join his show at the Paramount. Before I went on stage he asked me what my name was and I told him "Joe Bari" and he said that sounded like a fake name and asked me what my real name was. When I told him "Anthony Dominick Benedetto" he said let's shorten it and call you Tony Bennett and he introduced me that way — and that's been my name ever since. 

How did you all go about selecting the songs for Love Is Here to Stay?

Diana Krall: We just picked songs we liked and felt comfortable with.

Tony Bennett: Bill Charlap worked with Diana and I both and we had a list going that we all would review and advise one another on - it's not an easy task narrowing down a list of songs written by Ira and George Gershwin.

Tony, to your memory, which Gershwin song have you performed the most and why is that song so special to you?

Bennett: If I had to guess I think "They Can't Take That Away From Me" would top the list of Gershwin songs that I have recorded and performed the most. I often refer to the Great American Songbook but it called also be called the Fred Astaire Songbook and that song was written for him. I had the opportunity to meet Fred Astaire later on in his life which was an absolute thrill as he is top on my list of entertainers. He had the genius of making something very difficult look effortless and if you were a songwriter in the golden age of music all you needed was Fred Astaire to introduce your song to the public. So his version of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" is always in my head and heart when I perform that song.

Additionally, sir, what was your relationship with Ira Gershwin like? 

Bennett: I only had the chance to meet Ira Gershwin once and it was at the publishing firm Chappell Music and Ira had written a song that he wanted me to hear as he thought it would be a good song for me to record. So he told the clerk to go get the sheet music and the fellow runs into the back room and a few minutes later comes running up to us all excited and said to Ira, "Mr. Gershwin, I have the sheet music but we also have an actual recording of the song, and it's in STEREO!!" Ira looks the clerk and says to him, "What do I need stereo for, I have two ears!"

What inspired the choice of "Love Is Here to Stay" for the title? Which was my wedding song, by the way.

Krall: It is such a track for everyone's lives. A song of hope and how powerful love is. It can be sung at the beginning of new life, throughout life and in parting a bittersweet farewell that tells us love will always endure. It will always stay with us in our hearts no matter what. A love story.

Bennett: "Love Is Here to Stay" is a wonderful song - you mention it was your wedding song - and it's truly the perfect marriage of music and lyric. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Speaking of a perfect marriage, Diana, did Elvis Costello give you any feedback about Love Is Here to Stay?

Krall: He was in town for most of the recording and was present with our children in the studio one day. We all had dinner together with Tony, Susan and friends one night. It was wonderful for us to be all together.

Also, what are your thoughts on the way your husband's new album Look Now has turned out?

Krall: Incredible. I love it. Burt Bacharach. Takes it to the place you want to go emotionally. I love the whole recording but hearing Elvis and Burt together again was beautiful.

Tony, one of my favorite moments on MTV Unplugged was your duet with Elvis Costello. Were you always a fan of his music?

Bennett: My son Danny suggested Elvis Costello for MTV Unplugged and listened to his version of "My Funny Valentine," which I thought was terrific and here again, Gershwin came into play here again as we sang "They Can't That Away From Me." And then I asked Elvis to sing again on an album I did and we did a upbeat number, "Are You Having Any Fun?" — so we have done a lot together and he came by the studio when Diana and I were recording and we celebrated his birthday together.

Lastly, as someone whose fan base still very much buys music in the physical format, what are your thoughts on the argument over digital vs. physical and the concept that the CD is a dead medium?

Krall: My 11‐year‐old son is listening to the Beatles in Mono on his Sony Discman and my cassette mixtapes on a Walkman from the '80s. (So) Not dead yet.

Bennett: Well, I started out with 78s so I have seen a lot of changes over the decades but you know, when my MTV Unplugged recording came out it was when music on the Internet really started to take off and what was beautiful about that was it gave everyone a chance to explore all kinds of musical genres and not just what happened to be playing on the radio. I think it enabled a lot of young people at the time to discover jazz and popular standards which was the impetus for the MTV Unplugged project - to expose a whole new generation to these songs. So the issue isn't about how music if someone is playing music on their iPad or on a CD but what their access is to the music. I remember when I was a kid one of the first recordings I ever bought was an Enrico Caruso record. It was during the depression so when you made a purchase like that you had to be very sure it was something you wanted to listen to forever — and also music that the whole family would enjoy.