Photo © Gilles Toucas
The Sinatra Project
With special guests Russell Malone & Harry Allen
and the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra
Mr. Feinstein will also participate in a conversation about the Great American Songbook, hosted by Ashley Kahn, in Dizzy's Den on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm.
Michael Feinstein, the multi-platinum-selling, two-time Emmy and five-time GRAMMY Award-nominated entertainer dubbed "The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook," is considered one of the premier interpreters of American standards. His 200-plus shows a year have included performances at Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House and the Hollywood Bowl as well as the White House and Buckingham Palace.
More than simply a performer, Feinstein has received national recognition for his commitment to celebrating America's popular song and preserving its legacy for the next generation. In 2007, he founded the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative, dedicated to celebrating the art form and preserving it through educational programs, Master Classes, and the annual High School Vocal Academy and Competition, which awards scholarships and prizes to students across the country. Michael serves on the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Board, an organization dedicated to ensuring the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America's sound recording heritage.
Feinstein's earned his fifth GRAMMY Award nomination in 2009 for The Sinatra Project, his Concord Records CD celebrating the music of "Ol' Blue Eyes." The Sinatra Project, Volume II: The Good Life was released in 2011. His Emmy-nominated TV special, Michael Feinstein -- The Sinatra Legacy, which was taped live at the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana, aired across the country. The PBS series Michael Feinstein's American Songbook was the recipient of the ASCAP Deems-Taylor Television Broadcast Award. The series returned in 2012 for a second season, which is now available on DVD. For his nationally syndicated public radio program Song Travels, Michael interview and performs alongside of music luminaries such as Bette Midler, Neil Sedaka, Liza Minnelli, Moby, Rickie Lee Jones, David Hyde Pierce and more.
His new book The Gershwins and Me, which is combined with a new CD of Gershwin standards performed with Cyrus Chestnut at the piano, was published by Simon & Schuster in October 2012. Recently, he released the CDs The Power Of Two -- collaborating with Glee and 30 Rock star Cheyenne Jackson -- and Cheek To Cheek, recorded with Broadway legend Barbara Cook. We Dreamed These Days, featuring the Carmel Symphony Orchestra; Feinstein co-wrote the title song with Dr. Maya Angelou. In April 2013, Change of Heart: The Songs of André Previn was released on Concord Records.
Feinstein serves as Artistic Director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts, a $170 million, three-theatre venue in Carmel, Indiana, which opened in January 2011. The theater is home to an annual international Great American Arts festival, diverse live programming and a museum for his rare memorabilia and manuscripts. Starting in 2010, he became the director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Feinstein is working with MGM to turn The Thomas Crown Affair into a Broadway musical. He also has designed a new piano for Steinway called "The First Ladies," inspired by the White House piano and signed by several former First Ladies. It was first played to commemorate the Ronald Regan centennial on February 6, 2011.
In 2005, Feinstein recorded Hopeless Romantics, a songbook of Harry Warren classics recorded with legendary jazz pianist George Shearing. The previous year, he completed a national tour with songwriting icon Jimmy Webb based on their album Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb. The disc was named one of "10 Best CDs of the Year" by USA Today.
In 2003, Feinstein received his fourth GRAMMY nomination for his 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 years 1987-1996 and featuring old favorites and previously unreleased tracks.
Michael's own record label, Feinery, a Concord Records subsidiary, released The Livingston & Evans Songbook, featuring Feinstein and special guest Melissa Manchester. Feinery also records favorite current artists and restores recordings and musical broadcasts from the golden age of popular song.
His Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein's at Loews Regency, has presented the top talents of pop and jazz, including Rosemary Clooney, Glen Campbell, Barbara Cook, Diahann Carroll, Jane Krakowski, Lea Michele, Cyndi Lauper, Jason Mraz and Alan Cumming. Feinstein appears there for a sold-out holiday engagement every year.
His many other credits include scoring the original music for the film Get Bruce and performing on the hits television series Better With You, Caroline in the City, Melrose Place, Coach, Cybill, and 7th Heaven.
The roots of all this work began in Columbus, Ohio, where Feinstein started playing piano by ear as a five-year-old. After graduating from high school, he worked in local piano bars for two years, moving to Los Angeles when he was 20. The widow of legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant introduced him to Ira Gershwin in July 1977. Feinstein became Gershwin's assistant for six years, which earned him access to numerous unpublished Gershwin songs, many of which he has since performed and recorded.
Gershwin's influence provided a solid base upon which Feinstein evolved into a captivating performer, composer and arranger of his own original music. He also has become an unparalleled interpreter of music legends such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington and Harry Warren. Feinstein has received three honorary doctorates.
Through his live performances, recordings, film and television appearances, and his songwriting (in collaboration with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Lindy Robbins and Carole Bayer Sager), Feinstein is an all-star force in American music.
About The Sinatra Project
With The Sinatra Project, Feinstein explains, he “decided to focus on the aspects of Sinatra’s art that people don’t always think about; specifically, his particular taste and style in choosing music and how he pervaded it, paying close attention to the arrangements and orchestrations, which were important elements in making Sinatra great.” Feinstein took songs Sinatra had sung—some instantly familiar others relatively obscure—and reinterpreted them in “different ways that still reflected his style and approach. It was a way into the material that allowed me honor him without copying; to bring the essence of him through without being an imitator.”
With The Sinatra Project, Volume II: The Good Life released by Concord Jazz in 2011), Feinstein has found another inventive way in. “The second volume is really about Sinatra and his friends,” says Feinstein. “It’s about the people he influenced and who influenced him. The focus is more on the 1960s. The album includes a few songs Sinatra never sang, which was intentional because I wanted to encapsulate that era and show that, though he was still very important, music and styles were changing. It was the ushering in of a new sensibility, and yet the 1960s was still a time when rich, standards-type songs like ‘For Once In My Life’ were still being created alongside newer pop elements like rock and roll.”
Close to a dozen superstars, many of whom Sinatra counted as close friends and also deeply admired as artists, influenced Feinstein’s song selections and his stylistic choices, including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Ann-Margret, Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire, Nancy Wilson and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Again Feinstein combines familiar and comparatively obscure material, creating a 12-track playlist that extends from such signature Sinatra tunes as “Luck Be a Lady” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” to the extremely rare “C’est Comme Ça,” co-written by Ellington and Marshall Barer for the 1966 Broadway flop Pousse Café (a musical adaptation of the 1930 Joseph von Sternberg film The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich).
Throughout the closing decades of Sinatra’s career, Feinstein himself became friendly with the legendary singer. Their first meeting was in the late 1970s at Chasen’s, one of Sinatra’s favorite Hollywood watering holes. Sinatra was throwing a birthday party for his wife, Barbara, and Feinstein was booked to play piano. “Frank invited me to join him after he heard me play,” Feinstein recalls. “I was very excited by that. I wasn’t interested in all the personal aspects of his life, nor did I know much about them. I was interested in the art, and because I got to meet him in such a casual situation he was at his most relaxed, very talkative and freewheeling. He talked about his years at MGM and [producer] Arthur Freed and songwriters. It was really fun. There was no sign of any temperament. He was just great to me.”
Prior to Sinatra’s death in 1998, their paths would frequently cross. “When Liza [Minnelli] was touring with him, I’d often go backstage to see her and would get to spend time with him, too. And I was at his house for several dinners. One time, Barbara asked me if I wanted to perform, but I declined. In addition to Sinatra, the guests that night included Dinah Shore and lots of other big-name singers and music executives, and I was just too nervous. I wish I had, though. It would have been great to sing for all those people, but I felt too overwhelmed!”
When Feinstein conceived The Sinatra Project, he partnered with producer/arranger Bill Elliott to help realize his concept. Together with Elliott, Feinstein was able to recreate the charts he envisioned in the style of such classic Sinatra arrangers as Nelson Riddle and Billy May. Elliott returns for The Sinatra Project, Volume II: The Good Life, again demonstrating his alchemic ability to fulfill Feinstein’s vision. “Bill Elliot is one of the most talented musicians working today,” says Feinstein. “I was recently at a party where somebody said, ‘Bill Elliott is like a secret weapon; he’s this unsung hero,’ and I said, ‘I wouldn’t call him unsung. He’s doing arrangements for the Boston Pops and L.A. Philharmonic and for New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, he did the arrangements for the current Broadway production of Anything Goes and he’s doing them for the forthcoming musical Robin and the Seven Hoods!’ He is becoming more and more in-demand. That’s because Bill’s background is such that he can orchestrate in any style. He’s very seriously schooled in all pop music styles. He knows how to create an orchestration to sound like a 1930 band or a 1935 band, between which there is a huge difference; or he can [replicate] the 1920s, ’40s, ’50s or rock ‘n’ roll. And Bill can do it so it sounds organic, which is fiendishly difficult. I hear so many recordings that want to sound retro and they always sound ersatz to me. Bill, as the result of years of work, can emulate any style and make it fresh. I can’t think of anyone else who can do what he can do.”
In addition to producing the album, working with Feinstein on all the arrangements and orchestrations and conducting the 30-member orchestra, Elliott plays piano on eight of the dozen tracks. The album’s core group also includes guitarist Jim Fox, bassist Kirk Smith, drummer Albie Berk and percussionist Bernie Dresel. Asked if it is difficult to work with another pianist when he is so accustomed to accompanying himself, Feinstein responds, “Not at all… It is fun to work with someone else because it spurs me to sing the songs a little differently.” Feinstein does, however, accompany himself on four tracks, two—“The Good Life” and “Sway”—with the full orchestra and two—“C’est Comme Ça” and “I’ll Be Around”—with just Smith and violinist Sid Page.
As for the album’s subtitle, Feinstein says he chose “The Good Life” because “it reflects the ’60s, when Sinatra had gotten to a point in his life where he became iconic in a way that was different from the ’50s. He really came into his own. And it was also a good time. “The Good Life” is a song from the mid-’60s and people were in many ways, if perhaps illusionary, living a good life.”