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Tony Bennett: With ‘Silver Lining,’ honoring Jerome Kern

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga perform at the

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga perform at the Grammy Awards in February. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Larry Busacca

Tony Bennett is a man of his word.

When he says he loves his hometown of Astoria, he proves it. It’s not just when he’s singing “America the Beautiful” before Game 5 of the World Series at Citi Field, dressed in pants that are an electric shade of Mets blue and joined by kids from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts that he co-founded with his wife, Susan, in Long Island City. It’s an everyday thing.

“I loved how they have recovered,” Bennett says of the Mets, before they fell to the Kansas City Royals. “How can you not be rooting for them?”

The same can be said about Bennett himself.

The 89-year-old singer has gone in and out of style several times over in his more than six decades in the business, but he has always stayed true to his mission — bringing music from the Great American Songbook to new generations and new audiences around the world.

“No country has ever given the rest of the world so many wonderful songs,” Bennett says. “Anywhere you go, they all know them.”

Bennett is continuing this mission with his new album, “The Silver Lining” (Columbia), a collaboration with pianist Bill Charlap on the songs of Jerome Kern. “Bill Charlap is a great pianist, but he’s also an expert musicologist,” Bennett says. “He knows the history of all the great composers and he says that Jerome Kern influenced the Gershwins and Irving Berlin and the others because he was the first to take his classical training and apply it to theater music.”

Many credit Kern with writing the first modern ballad — “They Didn’t Believe Me” in 1914 — as well as one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time, “Show Boat,” which includes classics like “Ol’ Man River” and “Why Do I Love You?”

Bennett has sung Kern’s “I Won’t Dance” several times throughout his career, including in a playful duet last year with Lady Gaga for their chart-topping “Cheek to Cheek” album. Bennett tackles it again with Charlap, but they give it a new twist.

“We did it in a waltz tempo,” Bennett says. “It was a great idea to take a waltz and really swing it. The waltz never goes out of style. . . . The waltz will always be beautiful.”

The way they handle “I Won’t Dance” is just one of the many ways Bennett’s collaborations with Charlap and Gaga are different, though he likes them both.

However, Bennett says the venues he is playing with Charlap on their current tour, which includes shows at NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Nov. 20 and 21, are more his style.

“I really like acoustical halls,” Bennett says. “With Lady Gaga, we were playing for 25,000 people some nights. I like a nice, intimate place. Carnegie Hall is perfect for me. I’m not out to capture the whole world.”

He says NYCB Theatre at Westbury has always been one of his favorite places to play. “It’s a special place for me,” he says. “After traveling in China and playing shows in Belgium and Sweden, it’s like coming home. I enjoy playing there. I really understand the people there.”

And playing for appreciative crowds of all ages is what keeps Bennett going, though he is careful not to push too hard.

“We pace it,” he says. “I could have retired years ago, but I like to make people feel good. I like to keep going. I’ve been so fortunate that I can. Coming out of the Second World War, I went to school at the American Theatre Wing and really had the best teachers. They taught me how to protect the voice, and it worked. My voice is in top shape. I’m 89 years old and I still feel great.”

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