By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
ENGLEWOOD, N.J. � On Aug. 3, Tony Bennett will be 85 years young. And the legendary singer is celebrating the same way he did for his 80th birthday: in the company of famous admirers.
Sept. 20 will bring the release of Tony Bennett: Duets II, a follow-up to 2006's platinum-plus, double-Grammy-winning Duets: An American Classic, which paired Bennett with such latter-day stars as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Bono, Tim McGraw and Celine Dion.
The lineup for Duets II is just as diverse, ranging from Andrea Bocelli to Carrie Underwood, from Norah Jones to Amy Winehouse.
Others teaming with Bennett include Mariah Carey, Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, Faith Hill, John Mayer, Willie Nelson and Alejandro Sanz. Michael Bubl� and k.d. lang, who appeared on the first collection, return, as does producer Phil Ramone.
Bennett ? chatting in his recording studio with Bubl�, after the two complete a jaunty version of Don't Get Around Much Anymore? describes Duets II as consisting of "hit songs that I've had through the years."
Bubl� chose the aforementioned Duke Ellington standard, though in some other cases Bennett himself matched singers to songs.
"We just tried to figure out what would feel natural for each artist," Bennett says.
For Bubl�, the assortment of name talent is "a testament to the respect we all have" for Bennett. "You couldn't have more different people showing up, but what we have in common is that we idolize this man."
Veteran jazz critic and author Gary Giddins observes: "Duets collections can be a commercial gimmick, but Tony's first record was extraordinary for its variety and musical commitment. He brought the same openness and fearlessness to it that he's shown throughout his career."
As he did five years ago, Bennett is recording each duet with his partner in the studio. While Bubl�, Groban and Mayer joined him in Englewood, other sessions are taking place in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London and Pisa, Italy.
The process has been fun, Bennett says ? and even frolicsome at times. "Every time I work with Michael, we end up dancing together. I can't figure that out."
The sessions are being filmed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Chicago) for a documentary due in the fall. Plans also are underway for Bennett to make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera.
Bennett attributes his longevity to "very good training. I was in the Second World War as an infantryman in France and Germany, and when I came back, under the G.I. Bill, they gave us the best teachers. I learned how to perform, how to control and hold onto my instrument."
Bubl� adds, "God also kissed his larynx."
"I always say ? and I hope you'll be able to say this, too, Michael ? that I've never worked a day in my life, because I love what I do. And I still have a lot to learn."