RAMBLIN ROUND: Bennett and Gaga garner Grammy nominations on eve of TV special

ROBERT GAUTHIER | Los Angeles Times/TNS

Lady Gaga, left, and Tony Bennett have been nominated for five 2021 Grammy Awards days before their new Nov. 28 television special. They are shown in a 2015 photo performing at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Yes! It’s happened again!

Despite yet another batch of changes in the Grammy Award rules this year, there’s one guy who can’t be stopped — Tony Bennett.

Yep, Bennett is back for a couple of reasons. He and his duet partner Lady Gaga were nominated for five Grammy Awards this week — including “Song of the Year” and “Album of the Year.”  Announcement of the duo’s Grammy Award nominations comes just before their new CBS television special airs Sunday night.

It shows Bennett’s so-called farewell performances with Lady Gaga during the duo’s sold-out concerts at Radio City Music Hall in August,

At 95, Bennett is the oldest performer ever nominated for a Grammy in the mainstream Album of the Year category. Pinetop Perkins, the blues pianist who made a comeback of sorts in the 2010s, won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2011 at the age of 97.

I wrote about Bennett in September, shortly before he and Lady Gaga released their second album of duets, called “Love for Sale,” named after Cole Porter’s classic song.

I also wrote that Bennett’s and Lady Gaga’s August concert at Radio City Music Hall had been filmed for a CBS television special to air over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in November.

Well, that weekend is here. “One Last Time: An Evening with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga” is set to air at 7 p.m. Central Daylight Time on CBS on Sunday, Nov. 27 — and I can’t wait to see it.

That’s because I’ve already seen a snippet of it, when a frail-looking Bennett was being escorted onstage by his wife, Susan Crow. Uh-oh, I thought. I knew Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years ago. He had also appeared less than his usual exuberant self during several pre-concert interviews I’d seen, doing little more then briefly responding to questions with a disinterested sort of detachment.

Maybe this might not go as well as his many fans had hoped.

But as he took his spot onstage, something striking happened. The lights went up; the curtains parted and — well, I don’t want to throw a spoiler in here for anyone planning to watch the show Sunday night.

What really has me thrilled are the five Grammy Award nominations for Bennett and Lady Gaga. One reason for that is they do excellent work and another reason is that Bennett faced some bullying after he won the Grammy for Album of the Year during the 1995 awards show, winning with his live album “MTV Unplugged.”

This time around Bennett will face off against relative whippersnappers such as Justin Bieber, Billie Ellish, Doja Cat and Jon Batiste in the Album of the Year category.

During the 1995 Grammy Awards, Bennett won Album of the Year honors over fellow nominees Eric Clapton, The Three Tenors, Bonnie Raitt and Seal.

That prompted an outburst from some music industry executives — even though Bennett had won armies of new fans though serving as the opening act for rock bands, such as the Lemonheads. Even more impressive, he won over a new generation of fans without pandering to them or changing his music one iota — usually appearing backed by his traditional combo of drums, bass and piano with an emphasis on selections from the Great American Songbook, that cornucopia of jazz, show tunes and movie themes.

Nevertheless, some of those executives complained so long and hard that sweeping changes were made to try and ensure that what they considered such an anomaly would not happen again.

One of the biggest complainers had been Tony Mottola, at the time married to singer Mariah Carey. The next year, Carey was nominated for six Grammy awards.

Funny thing, though.

Carey last won Grammys during the 2006 awards show for work done in 2005. She’s won a total of five Grammy Awards in her career.

Bennett won his last Grammy in 2018 in the Best Traditional Pop Category for “The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern,” winning a total of 20 Grammy Awards so far, if his 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award is counted. He won his first Grammy in 1963 for his recording of the song he made a classic: “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’

Think about it. A full year before The Beatles stormed America for the first time and won over fans with their performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Bennett was already taking Grammys home.

Oh yes, Bennett and Lady Gaga’s first duet album, 2014’s “Cheek to Cheek,” won a Grammy in 2015 for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

This year, along with the Grammy nominations for Album of the Year with “Love for Sale,” they are also nominated for Record of the Year for their recording of another Cole Porter song, “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Their other three 2021 Grammy nominations are for Pop/Duo Vocal Performance, Music Video and Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

Alas, here’s where my rooting for Bennett may waver a bit. I figured Willie Nelson had been a shoo-in for the award in that category, for his album released earlier this year, “That’s Life: Willie Nelson Sings Frank Sinatra.” It’s one of my favorite albums of the year, but I have a feeling the Bennett/Lady Gaga juggernaut may be unstoppable in this category, even if they do face some tough challenges in the more mainstream competition.

Of course, music isn’t about competition. It’s about doing your best in whatever musical vineyard an artist chooses to toil. But wait. Even though the best artists typically put in lots of hard work on their way to mastering their chosen musical idiom, I have a feeling the best of them don’t consider it work at all, but more of a labor of joy.

I have the feeling that’s the way Tony Bennett has always approached music.

I would challenge any skeptics to take a look at his face during the Sunday night telecast of “One Last Time” as the lights go up and the curtains are parted for the beginning of his Radio City Music Hall concerts.

Uh-oh, there I go again. 

Those performances set to air Sunday night may have been Bennett’s last concerts, but maybe they’re not his last performances.

I’m hoping he’ll go steppin’ out with his baby at least a few more times.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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