Michael Feinstein is known as the “The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook” for his commitment to American popular music through a 30-year career of live performances, recordings, and broadcasts. In addition to performing more than 150 shows a year in the U.S. and abroad in major concert halls, with symphony orchestras and big bands, in intimate jazz clubs, and on college campuses, Feinstein is a passionate collector and preservationist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of 20th century music and popular culture. He serves on The Library of Congress’ National Sound Recording Advisory Board, a group of artists and industry leaders charged with safeguarding America’s musical heritage; he also is Director of a new popular music series for Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2008, he created the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative, headquartered in Carmel, Indiana, dedicated to celebrating the artform and preserving its legacy for the next generation through Master Classes, educational programs, and exhibitions.
His Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, where he appears several times a year for extended engagements, presents top talents in pop and jazz such as Barbara Cook, Jane Krakowski, Alan Cumming, Nellie McKay, Ashford & Simpson, Marilyn Maye, Ben Vereen, Chita Rivera, Tom Wopat, and Elaine Stritch. Starting in 2011, Feinstein also will serve as the Artistic Director of the new Carmel (Indiana) Performing Arts Center, which will host an annual Great American Songbook festival and house an archive of Feinstein’s collection of musical memorabilia, sheet music, and manuscripts.
As a recording artist, Michael has earned five Grammy nominations, most recently for his CD The Sinatra Project in 2009. Other CDs include The Power of Two (with Broadway leading man Cheyenne Jackson); Only One Life – The Songs of Jimmy Webb; Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Grammy nomination); Michael and George – Feinstein Sings Gershwin; Big City Rhythms (with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band); the double-CD Romance On Film, Romance On Broadway; and The Michael Feinstein Anthology, a 2-disc compilation spanning the years 1987 to 1996, featuring previously unreleased tracks.
Michael started playing piano by ear when he was five. After graduating from high school in Columbus, Ohio, he worked in local piano lounges for two years, moving to Los Angeles when he was 20. Through the widow of concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant, he was introduced to legendary lyricist Ira Gershwin in July 1977. He became Ira’s assistant for six years, and was granted access to numerous unpublished Gershwin songs that he has since performed and recorded.
Gershwin’s influence provided a solid base upon which Michael has not only evolved into a captivating performer, composer and arranger of his own original music, but also has become an unparalleled interpreter of music legends such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, and Harry Warren. He is writing a new book about the songs of the Gershwins, as well as co-producing a feature film about them with Oscar- and Tony-winning producer Marc Platt.
While out of town with the show On Your Toes, Lorenz Hart went down to the men’s room of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre and wrote the lyrics to “There’s a Small Hotel.”There’s a Small Hotel
When Artie Shaw recorded the Jerry Gray arrangement at his first session for Victor, it got a tepid response. Shaw explained, “I just happened to like it so I insisted on recording it at this first session, in spite of the recording manager, who thought it a complete waste of time, and only let me make it after I had argued it would make a least a nice quiet contrast to the ‘Indian Love Call’ [on the B side]. That recording of that one little tune … was the real turning point in my life.”Begin the Beguine
Songwriter Cole Porter and librettist Moss Hart took an around-the-world cruise on the Franconia in order to write the musical Jubilee. While in the Dutch East Indies, Porter heard a native dance and was taken by its unique rhythm. He wrote “Begin the Beguine” and played it for Hart, who later admitted, “I had reservations about the length of the song. Indeed, I am somewhat ashamed to record that I thought it had ended when he was only halfway through playing it.”Begin the Beguine
“I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise was originally titled, ‘A New Step Every Day.’”I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise
As Michael Feinstein tells it, Kander and Ebb had been hired to write the score for the musical film starring Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli. When they brought what they had created as the title song to the film’s director Martin Scorcese, Minnelli, and DeNiro and performed it for the first time, there was a long pause, after which DeNiro said “I don’t like it.” Kander and Ebb were stunned, but had no choice but to go back to their studio and make up something else. Channeling all their frustration, anger, and resentment into their work, they came back with a new title song to play for their finicky star. This time DeNiro said “I like it.” And that’s the song that was sung by Liza, later commandeered by Sinatra, and became a worldwide standard … and the bane of every piano bar pianist.New York, New York