Keeper of the Great American Songbook
Michael Jay Feinstein (1956- ) is an American singer, pianist, and music revivalist. He is an interpreter of, and an anthropologist and archivist for, the repertoire known as the Great American Song-book. In 1988 he won a Drama Desk Special Award for celebrating American musical theatre songs. Feinstein is also a multi-platinum-selling, five-time Grammy-nominated recording artist. He currently serves as Artistic Director for The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana.
Feinstein was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Florence Mazie (née Cohen), an amateur tap dancer, and Edward Feinstein, a sales execu-tive for the Sara Lee Corporation and a former amateur singer. At the age of five, he studied piano for a couple of months until his teacher became angered that he was not reading the sheet music she gave him, since he was more comfortable playing by ear. As his mother saw no problem with her son’s method, she took him out of lessons and allowed him to enjoy music his own way.
After graduating from high school, Feinstein worked in local piano bars for two years, moving to Los Angeles when he was twenty. Through the widow of legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant, in 1977 he was introduced to Ira Gershwin, who hired him to catalogue his extensive collection of phonograph records. The assignment led to six years of researching, cataloguing and preserving the unpublished sheet music and rare recordings in Gershwin’s home, thus securing the legacy of not just Ira but also that of his composer brother George Gershwin, who had died four decades earlier. Feinstein’s extended tenure enabled him to also get to know Gershwin’s next-door neighbor, singer Rosemary Clooney, with whom Feinstein formed an intensely close friendship lasting until Clooney’s death. Feinstein served as musical consultant for the 1983 Broadway show My One and Only, a musical pastiche of Gershwin tunes.
By the mid-1980s, Feinstein was a nationally known cabaret singer-pianist famed for being a dedicated proponent of the Great American Songbook. In 1986, he recorded his first CD, Pure Gershwin (1987), a collection of music by George and Ira Gershwin. He followed this in quick succession with Live at the Algonquin (1986); Remember: Michael Feinstein Sings Irving Berlin (1987); Isn’t It Romantic (1988), a collection of standards and his first album backed by an orchestra; and Over There (1989), featuring the music of America and Europe during the First World War. Feinstein recorded his only children’s album, Pure Imagination, in 1992. In the 1987 episode “But Not For Me” of the TV series thirtysomething he sang “But Not For Me,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” and Isn’t It Romantic? as parts of dream sequences.
By 1988, Feinstein was starring on Broadway in a series of in-concert shows: Michael Feinstein in Concert (April through June 1988), Michael Feinstein in Concert: “Isn’t It Romantic” (October through November 1988), and Michael Feinstein in Concert: Piano and Voice (October 1990). He returned to Broadway in 2010, in a concert special duo with Dame Edna titled All About Me (March through April 2010).
In the early 1990s, Feinstein embarked on an ambitious songbook project wherein he performed an album featuring the music of a featured composer, often accompanied by the composer. These included collaborations with Burton Lane (two volumes: 1990, 1992), Jule Styne (1991), Jerry Herman (Michael Feinstein Sings the Jerry Herman Songbook, 1993), Hugh Martin (1995), Jimmy Webb (Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb, 2003) and Jay Livingston/Ray Evans (2002). He has also recorded three albums of standards with Maynard Ferguson: Forever (1993), Such Sweet Sorrow (1995), and Big City Rhythms (1999).
In the late 1990s, Feinstein recorded two more albums of Gershwin music: Nice Work If You Can Get It: Songs by the Gershwins (1996) and Michael & George: Feinstein Sings Gershwin (1998). Feinstein’s albums in the 21st century have included Romance on Film, Romance on Broadway (2000), Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philhar-monic Orchestra (2001), Hopeless Romantics (2005, featuring George Shearing), and The Sinatra Project (2008).
The concert performed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was recorded at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium. Michael says, “I wanted to join forces with this wonderful orchestra. I loved the time I spent in Israel and hope to go back to help support the people who need us there. I went to Israel because I wanted to be there and it was so moving because the people I met were so grateful for anyone who stepped foot on their soil given the intense political situation. They kept telling me, ‘We’re so glad you came. Thank you.’ Their over-whelming appreciation sometimes made me feel uncomfortable because, in truth, it was I who should have been thanking them for their unbelievable display of hospitality and their selfless, daily acts of courage. Although the concert was in Tel Aviv, I traveled throughout the country. I was left with a great sense of yearning for better things for all the people I had the pleasure of meeting and with whom I felt a close sense of friendship and love.”
In 2000, the Library of Congress appointed Feinstein to its newly formed National Recording Preservation Board, an organization dedicated to safeguarding America’s musical heritage.
In 2008, The Great American Songbook Foundation, Michael Feinstein, Founder located its headquarters in Carmel, Indiana. The Foundation’s two-fold mission includes the preservation, research, and exhibition of the physical artifacts, both published and non-published, of the Great American Songbook and educating today’s youth about the music’s relevance to their lives. The Foundation houses an archive and reference library; plans exist for a free-stand-ing museum. The organization also holds an annual Great American Songbook Vocal Academy and Competition that invites high school students from around the country to compete in regional compe-titions; Feinstein has been a judge and mentor for the summer intensive each year from its inception in 2009. Finalists gather at the Foundation’s head-quarters for a vocal “boot camp” and final compe-tition. The winner receives scholarship money and the opportunity to perform with Michael at his cabaret in New York.
In 2009 Feinstein became the artistic director of The Center for the Performing Arts located in Carmel, Indiana. Construction of the $170-million, three-theater venue was completed in January, 2011. The Center is home to an annual international arts festival, diverse live programming, and The Great American Songbook Foundation, Michael Feinstein, founder.
In 2009, Feinstein teamed up with Cheyenne Jackson to create a nightclub act titled The Power of Two. The show was hailed by The New York Times as “passionate,” “impeccably harmonized,” and “groundbreaking.” Variety acclaimed it as “dazzlingly entertaining.” Their act became one of the most critically acclaimed shows of 2009, and the duo created a studio album from the material, The Power of Two that included their cover of the Indigo Girls song of the same name.
In addition to doing more than 150 live performances per year, Fein-stein has appeared on a number of television series, documentaries, and talk shows.
In 2010, PBS aired Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three-part television documentary that depicts the history of the American popular song up to 1960, as well as Feinstein’s own life and career.
As of June 2011, Feinstein has written the score for two new stage musicals, The Night They Saved Macy’s Parade and The Gold Room.
His Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, presented the top talents of pop and jazz from 1999 to 2012, including Rosemary Clooney, Liza Minnelli, Glen Campbell, Barbara Cook, Diahann Carroll, Jane Krakowski, Lea Michele, Cyndi Lauper, Jason Mraz and Alan Cumming. The club was closed in December 2012 due to a year-long complete renovation of the Regency Hotel. Michael opened his new nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Nikko in San Francisco’s Nikko Hotel in May 2013, Feinstein’s/54 Below at New York’s Studio 54 in 2015 and also plans for a future nightclub in London.
Since 2012, Feinstein has been the host of the weekly, one-hour radio program Song Travels with Michael Feinstein®, produced by South Carolina ETV Radio and distributed by NPR. On the program, Fein-stein explores the legendary songs of 20th century America. The series surveys the passage of American Popular Song throughout the Ameri-can landscape, evolving with each artist and performance. Podcast highlights of the show are also available under the title Song Travels Express.
Feinstein was named Principal Pops Conductor for the Pasadena POPS in 2012 and made his conducting debut in June 2013 to cele-brated critical acclaim. In 2016, Feinstein’s contract with the Pasa-dena POPS was extended through 2019. Under Feinstein’s leadership, the Pasadena POPS has quickly become the nation’s premier presenter of the Great American Songbook in the orchestral arena delivering definitive performances of rare orchestrations and classic arrange-ments.
Feinstein’s memoir The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs about working for Ira Gershwin was published in the fall of 2012, accompanied by a CD of Feinstein performing the Gershwin brothers’ music discussed in the book.
In April 2013 Michael released a new CD, Change Of Heart: The Songs of André Previn, (Concord) in collaboration with legendary composer-conductor-pianist André Previn, with an album celebrating Previn’s repertoire from his catalog of pop songs that have most commonly been featured in motion pictures. The album opens with “(You’ve Had) A Change of Heart.”
On October 31, 2014, Feinstein’s Michael Feinstein at the Rainbow Room premiered on PBS, with guest stars. The special is part of the 2014 PBS Arts Fall Festival, a primetime programming event with eleven weekly programs of classic Broadway hits and music from around the country, as well as acclaimed and award-winning theater performances.
Michael Feinstein, 2009.
“I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in music. My earliest memories con-sist of having family gatherings which were always filled with music. As far back as I can recall there was always music in my life. I played the piano and sang because it felt good to do so; there were no professional aspirations involved. It was simply something that brought me tre-mendous pleasurable moments.”
Michael Feinstein and Marvin Hamlisch performing a duet of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” 2009.
The official Website for
Mr. Feinstein is:
The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana.
Check out Michael’s club in New York City, “54 Below.”
BOOKS FROM AMAZON
Watch/listen to Michael Feinstein sing “Someone to Watch Over Me.”