By Jeannie Pool
Consummate singer-pianist Michael Feinstein took a moment from his jam-packed schedule to appear as the featured guest at the ASMAC luncheon on October 17 at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. He was introduced by ASMAC Vice President Van Alexander as “an authentic musicologist, pianist and singer, possessing qualities that can not be acquired at any cost: good taste and class.” Alexander said it was the highlight of his own career to do some arranging for Feinstein for a Carnegie Hall performance.
One of the premiere interpreters of American popular song, Michael Feinstein has been a household name since the success of his 1988 one-man Broadway show, “Isn’t It Romantic!” The ASMAC audience was thrilled that Feinstein did his entire presentation from the piano to illustrate his talk about the great songwriters and arrangers of the last hundred years.. Feinstein said, “Songwriters are the heroes; the arrangers are the magicians and alchemists.” He won the hearts of the ASMAC audience when talked about and demonstrated in his performance what great arrangers do for songs. He lamented the fact that arrangers are not known by the general public, although they “are indeed the seminal names in music.”
Originally from Columbus, Ohio. Feinstein started playing the piano by ear at the age of five. He moved in Los Angeles at age 20, where he impressed Ira Gershwin in 1977 with his vast knowledge of Gershwin music and lyrics. Working as Ira Gershwin’s assistant for 6 years, Feinstein met many songwriters and lyricists, forging a precious link to that past generation upon which he has built his career. He has become one of their leading advocates. Michael Feinstein performed, “How about you?” (Ralph Freed/Burton Lane), “’S Wonderful,” (Gershwin); and “My Romance,” (Rodgers and Hart), among other songs, including some of the “dummy lyrics” (lyrics devised to perfect the rhythm of the words) or some lyrics that were discarded. He knows just how to support his own rich voice with his piano playing. His interpretive powers are stellar and he demonstrates great command of the American songbook repertoire.
The sincerity with which he pleads the case for the survival of this tradition in American music is hard to resist. Feinstein is dedicated to both celebrating its art and preserving its legacy for the next generation. At the luncheon he announced that he has established a new foundation for the preservation of American popular music and has been given a building in Indianapolis. The institute will house between 20,000 and 30,000 items in Feinstein’s own personal collection and hopes to expand that archive by working with the estates of the composers and lyricists. The foundation hopes to create touring exhibitions, present concerts, have a museum, and create programs to promote American popular music, to help keep it alive. Feinstein has recently returned from a tour in Japan and is currently producing a compact disc for his friend Liza Minnelli based on the music of her godmother Kay Thompson, the famed author, singer and arranger. He will also host and serve as consultant on a new PBS film on vintage Hollywood “Soundies” and is producing a documentary feature on arts and society icon Kitty Carlisle Hart. He has also written the score for new stage music “Perspectives.”
Feinstein’s latest compact disc from Concord Records, “Hopeless Romantics,” a songbook of Harry Warren classics, recorded with legendary jazz pianist George Shearing. Feinstein received his fourth Grammy Award nomination in 2003 for his Concord release, “Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra,” his first recording with a symphony orchestra. The year before Rhino/Elektra Music released “The Michael Feinstein Anthology,” a two-disc compilation spanning the year 1987 to 1996, featuring old favorites and previously unreleased tracks. Michael’s own record label, Finery, a new Concord subsidiary, released “The Livingston & Evans Songbook,” featuring him and special guest Melissa Manchester. His Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, has presented the top talents of pop and jazz such as Rosemary Clooney, Steve Tyrell, Barbara Cook, Tony Danza, Ann Hampton Callaway and Dame Cleo Laine. Feinstein’s own holiday performances are always sold out. For more information on Feinstein’s career, visit his web site at http://www.michaelfeinstein.com.