Living National Treasure

In 1950 the Japanese Diet formalized a tradition by enacting the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. The new law conferred a special appellation, “Living National Treasure,” on artists of unusual merit – those that had “attained a high mastery of an art or craft.” The status is awarded to individuals designated as masters of those special intangible skills and cultural properties worthy of preservation.

The US also recognizes its artists, but the Japanese honor draws attention to the ongoing artistry while the Kennedy Center Honors tend to be more of a “lifetime achievement award.” There’s a difference. Our way pales by comparison to the designation of a Living National Treasure.

 I haven’t always been a dedicated fan and follower of The American Songbook. I’m more into folk-rock and blues, but a subscription to Sirius XM satellite radio and M’s love of the songbook and musical theater has helped me develop a real appreciation for the genre. All this is by way of saying I now believe Mr. Tony Bennett should be celebrated as a Living National Treasure. In 2005 he was honored by the Kennedy Center but it’s not the same.

Tony Bennett

Since 2002 I’ve been listening more closely. That was the year he released an album of duets with KD Lang. It was a unique collaboration, the American crooner and the androgynous Canadian country rocker. Very out of the box. Delicious.

Then in 2006, after the Kennedy Center honor, came the first of three more extraordinary collections – also duets. He just keeps getting, well… better. It’s a great body of work. The first Duets CD included singers as diverse as John Legend, the Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and Michael Buble. It was as surprising in its execution as it was in its lineup. In 2011 he followed up with Duets II and the diversity continued featuring such un-Tony-like talents as Willie Nelson, Amy Winehouse, John Mayer and Queen Latifah.

Tony Bennett Duets

But… the hands down best cut on the Duets II album is The Lady is a Tramp, a rocking jazzy version with Lady Gaga.  Yes, that Lady Gaga. Check it out on YouTube. I promise you’ll be dancing within seconds:  They are sensational.



Tony and Gaga are magic, and after Duets Tony knew it knew it and wanted more magic. “Lady” was the first track on Duets II and last month (September 2014) the two of them released Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga Cheek to Cheek. The 15 songs are all standards, but they seem fresh because of the give and take, back and forth of these two amazing jazz singers.  And, at 88 he’s working harder than ever. You can hear the changes in his voice from the KD Lang collaboration to the Gaga CD, but with him it was never really about the voice. Like Sinatra and Mel Torme it is the impeccable timing and unique phrasing that makes him a great singer.

This is a screen shot from the YouTube video. You get the idea?  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

More tomorrow…


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