Interview: Tony Bennett & k.d. lang

Tony Bennett is a silver-haired crooner from Queens, and k.d. lang has called herself a "big-boned gal from southern Alberta." But don't call them the odd couple.

He is proudly Italian-American; she is proudly vegetarian. He is 76; she is about half his age. He has a girlfriend — and so does she.

But when people show surprise that the two singers have paired up to record an album of love songs, Bennett is irritated. "They're uneducated," he says. "We're all human beings and we're all here and we're all different."

The pair say that music unites them. "Even though he's way better than I am and I hate him for it," says Lang, laughing.

"The beautiful thing is the juxtaposition," she continues. "But it's not as glaring as one would just take it for a face value."

The Next Judy Garland

The duo's new album, A Wonderful World, is a tribute to Louis Armstrong, one of the musical greats Bennett has known and performed with during his 50-year career.

Lang, 41, got her start as a country singer and turned to the classic songbook relatively recently. But Bennett has no doubt that she has the chops for it.

"Next to Judy Garland, she's the best singer I've ever heard," he says, tearing up with emotion. "She gives me goose bumps when I hear her sing."

Bennett says he believes Lang is the best singer performing today. "When she sings, I can actually see angels. That's how good she sings," he says.

Learning From a Master

Lang started out as a country singer, but says her short hair did not go down well in the bouffant world of mainstream country music. In the mid-1990s she switched to contemporary pop.

Lang is not Bennett's protégé, but she says he is teaching her. "I see something in him that he can teach me and, you know, entrust in me all the knowledge and wisdom that he's had over the years. And he's graciously, generously handing it to me."

Bennett says she doesn't need it. "She doesn't have to learn anything. I really mean it," he says. The only advice he says he has for her is what a tennis pro once told him: "You're doing everything right. Now believe it."

Album Recorded in an Empty Theater

To recreate the feeling of a live performance, the pair recorded the album in a 1,200-seat vaudeville theater in Englewood, N.J., rather than a recording studio. "It's very much like the sound check before the show," said Lang. "There's no audience, the band's there, it's kind of loose ... It's very conducive to creativity for musicians."

Rather than setting up a complete studio in the theater, they used to fiber-optic cable to connect the microphones to Bennett's recording studio 500 feet away. The album is believed to be the first-ever recording to use fiber optics in that manner.