There’s a beautiful phenomenon going on in the music scene – a lot of collaborations between generations. Whether it’s the older generation of musicians wanting to remain relevant by ‘appearing’ to mentor the young, or it’s the latter group expressing support of the boomer or senior generations of entertainers, this intergenerational collaboration is excellent news to music fans.
I first remember the beginning of all these collaborations happening at The Grammy Awards a couple of years ago – older bands teaming up with younger ones and appearing on stage for a joint performance. Then renowned crooner Tony Bennett first came up with the idea of recording duets (although preceded by Frank Sinatra) with various younger artists – Michael Buble, Dixie Chicks, Diana Krall, John Legend and others. Following the huge success of Duets: An American Classic, he came up with Duets II in which he famously sang with Amy Winehouse shortly before she passed away. The album also made him the oldest living artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. He took the idea and expanded it further to the Hispanic community with Viva Duets by involving younger Hispanic musicians such as Thalia and Chayanne to sing the Spanish part of the duets.
Just when you thought Bennett might be content with his accomplishments in his octogenarian years, the 88-year-old musician is about to come out with another duet album, Cheek to Cheek, next week with Lady Gaga, who’s 60 years his junior. Nobody ever associated Gaga with jazz music although her diehard fans would know that the pop songstress first started off as a jazz singer in some New York City dive bars before becoming famous. In a recent interview with NBC’s Today and The New York Times, Lady Gaga got choked up a couple of times and said, “I wonder where I would be at this moment in my career had this not happened. I really didn’t want to make music anymore, for a little while, because I was so confused and tired. But now it’s so clear.” The skeptics said that this collaboration with Bennett in a brand new genre for Gaga might be a reboot for her, whose most recent solo release, Artpop, did not come even close to her usual blockbuster standards.
The truth of the matter is: both Bennett and Gaga were probably quite happy with where they were before making this new jazz album. But both seemed to continue to want to innovate and break new grounds. Hence came the latest collaboration!
Even the stage- and performance-shy Barbra Streisand has come out with her own duets album called Partners which was released earlier this week. In her usual diva way (a trait denied by her on The Tonight Show last night), this album is a collection of duets she recorded over the last year with an all-male lineup including some younger artists such as Michael Buble, John Legend, John Mayer, Babyface and Blake Shelton. Whether you like the 72-year-old icon’s music or not, this new album sounds irresistible.
This intergenerational musical collaboration is not obvious just in duet albums, but also as a ticket draw on stage. I attended a concert last night at Massey Hall where Joss Stone and Charles Bradley performed separately. Marketed as a “Soul Explosion” concert, both artists were mesmerizing in their own ways.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Joss Stone’s since her debut album The Soul Sessions at age 15. Once you’ve attended her concert, you’ll like her even more – in spite of her success, she started her show punctually at 8 p.m. in a long, orange summer dress and heated up the night with The Choking Kind which made her famous. Now at 27, she’s lost a lot of baby fat and is a bit more mature, but still sexy, approachable and such a natural performer with an Aretha Franklin voice. At the end of her one-hour performance, she got a soul train going among the audience on the floor and just exited off stage without any fanfare and encores in her signature bare feet.
Then came 65-year-old James-Brown-look-alike Charles Bradley. Unlike Stone, every single stage appearance of Bradley was introduced with huge fanfare by one of his younger band or crew members. Like Brown, his performance was as much about his moves and costumes on stage as it was about his voice and music. What highlighted his show last night was his supporting band – all white, young guys in their 20s who were so electrifying that I’ll be surprised if Bradley doesn’t record his next album with them.
Last evening was another example of musical collaboration between the young and the old, not together on stage, but as a two-in-one concert draw. For me, as a soul and r&b music fan, both gigs were intoxicating!