Tony Bennett has had a busy summer. The iconic crooner just celebrated his 85th birthday with a legendary bash, and is set to release Duets II, an album which features an impressive cast of collaborators (including Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse). And now, Tiffany and Co. has tapped Bennett to compile a playlist of his favorite love songs for the brand’s What Makes Love True campaign. In honor of the partnership, we caught up with the singer to discuss duet partners, affaires de coeur and his latest artistic pursuit.
What’s your earliest memory of Tiffany's?
What I liked about Tiffany’s is that when I was a lot younger, all the beautiful girls would be in front of Tiffany’s and I’d always try to pick up those girls.
You curated a love-song playlist for the brand. What makes a great love song?
Composers have a great talent. All I can do is interpret them. But the real talent is someone who can write them. As great as the American Songbook is with George Gershwin, Harlold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern, Cole Porter’s just better than any of them. It’s a gift that certain people have -- a genius for being able to do it so well.
You just celebrated a milestone birthday. What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten?
My son’s managed me for the last 45 years and he really does a great job. My whole family is around me. That’s my gift -- that my family, my grandchildren and sons and daughters, are glorious people. Each one is very creative. My granddaughter is a tremendous photographer. She has a wonderful show in Greenwich Village right now, and I just went to see it.
What was the highlight of your 85th birthday celebration?
Just to sing at the Metropolitan Opera can make your knees shake a little. I’m not an opera singer, but being requested to sing there for a benefit for the Metropolitan Opera was a wonderful honor and I was thrilled to do it.
You just collaborated with Lady Gaga on a duet of “The Lady Is a Tramp”. What was that like?
I love her. She’s very original and very creative. Very unpredictable. And she’s very sweet at the same time. She went to everybody on the crew and thanked them for believing in her.
What was your first impression of her?
It wasn’t till I heard her perform, but I couldn’t believe how good she is. She sings well and plays great piano. She also improvises very well. She’s spontaneous. She changed the whole interpretation of the song. She’s a very gifted person.
Tell me about the experience of working with the late Amy Winehouse, whom you sang with on “Body and Soul.”
She was a great jazz singer. I was trying to tell her to slow down. All the proceeds from the record I made with her go to a foundation to teach all the young people to stop taking drugs.
What other artists on the album really impressed you?
Queen Latifah, Norah Jones and Faith Hill, who I consider the female Sinatra. She has a wonderful style of singing. Michael Bublé, John Mayer—so many good performers. Natalie Cole did a great job. What I like about the new artists that I just recorded with, they come from great schools, like NYU, Berklee College, Julliard School of Music. They all came in very prepared, very ready for it. And it was encouraging to see that they’re actually getting good training now.
Who else would you like to collaborate with?
My favorite is KD Lang. I love the way she sings, and I love her personally.
You also paint. Do you have a favorite piece of work from your oeuvre?
There’s a painting I did of Duke Ellington that’s in the Smithsonian right next to Obama’s painting. I have three paintings in the Smithsonian and one at the Butler Institute in Youngstown, OH, which is a tremendous all-American museum.
Is there another creative outlet you’d like to pursue?
Sculpture. I’m working on the head of Harry Belafonte. He’s a great friend of mine.
Since Tiffany’s campaign is about the art of romance, what’s the best romantic advice you’ve been given?
To be honest.