Art of the Arrangement
When Michael Feinstein and conductor/arranger/producer Bill Elliott decided to make a new recording of songs associated with Frank Sinatra, the last thing they wanted to do was a “tribute” album attempting to imitate Sinatra’s inimitable sound. “I wanted to try and recreate a certain kind of swing style,” Feinstein explains, “that would reflect him, but not copy him.”
As arranger, Bill Elliott’s job was to “channel Nelson Riddle” and imagine how he might have done the job 60 years ago, working with pencil and paper and a studio orchestra of top flight musicians who had all come up in the big band era. Fortunately, Elliott is an historian as well as an orchestrator, and knows exactly how bands were configured in the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and how to accurately reproduce the sound of any era, from a Jazz Age dance band, with its emphasis on reeds and strings, to the brass-laden array Nelson Riddle and Billy May commanded at Capitol Records.
Blame It on My Youth
Michael Feinstein performs “Blame It On My Youth” (music by Oscar Levant, lyric by Edward Heyman, 1934).
Come Fly with Me
Michael Feinstein performs “Come Fly with Me” (music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyric by Sammy Cahn, 1957).
Episode 1 (clip)
Putting On the Tail Fins (1950s–1960s)
Episode 1 focuses on the 1950s and ‘60s when the Great American Songbook was in competition with new forms like rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues.
As Michael criss-crosses the country performing with big bands, symphony orchestras, and jazz combos, we learn how iconic singers like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Rosemary Clooney kept the Songbook alive by reinventing pop standards from the 1930s and ‘40s.
I’m an Errand Boy
1947 short starring Nat King Cole performing his song “I’m an Errand Boy for Rhythm.”
Just One of Those Things
Michael performs Cole Porter’s 1935 “Just One of Those Things” from the musical Jubilee.
Lady Is a Tramp
Michael performs Rodger’s & Hart’s “Lady Is a Tramp” from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms.
New York, New York
Michael Feinstein belts out “New York, New York” (music by John Kander, lyric by Fred Ebb, 1978) in a live performance at London’s Shaw Theatre, backed by a 17 piece big band conducted by Bill Elliott.
As 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.
1943 short starring Frank Sinatra performing “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade.
Bob Kennedy sings “Whispering” (music by Vincent Rose, lyric by Richard Coburn and John Schoenberger, 1920) in a 1947 Soundie. Soundies are short musical films which were played in a kind of motion picture jukebox in restaurants and bars.
“Whispering” was first recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and became the first record to sell a million copies. Bob Kennedy was a singer and actor whose daughter Karen invited Michael Feinstein to come to her father’s New Jersey home, after his death in 2007, and go through her father’s collection of sheet music, manuscripts, recordings, and other memorabilia. Among them were unpublished lyrics and arrangements of historical importance. Karen donated the materials to the Michael Feinstein Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook.
This Soundie was discovered in the course of making the PBS series, in the film collection of J. Fred MacDonald.
Rosemary Clooney sings “Who Cares?” (music by George Gershwin, lyric by Ira Gershwin, 1931) on her 1956 television series, in a Nelson Riddle arrangement. The song was originally written for the musical Of Thee I Sing.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Michael performs Irving Berlin’s 1911 “Alexander's Ragtime Band,” Berlin’s first big hit.
Anything Goes (Feinstein)
Episode 2 (clip)
Best Band in the Land (1940s)
Episode 2 examines how popular songs provided emotional solace and patriotic inspiration during World War II.
While preparing an original patriotic song of his own, to be performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Michael weaves in the history of 1940s big bands, USO shows and V-disks, and war bond rallies, and the powerful role popular music played in boosting morale.
Over the Rainbow
Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” (music by Harold Arlen, lyric by E. Y. Harburg, 1939) in an episode of “Command Performance—Strictly G.I.” a radio/film series made by the War Department during World War II for servicemen and women. The series featured all the big stars of the time, and the shows were not seen or heard by the general public.
“Over the Rainbow” became Judy Garland’s signature song after the film The Wizard of Oz.
We Dreamed These Days
Michael Feinstein and the US Marine Corps Band perform “We Dreamed These Days,” music by Michael Feinstein and lyrics by Maya Angelou.
Why Do They Call a Private
In this 1944 “Sing with the Stars” film for World War II servicemen, Broadway belter Ethel Merman wonders “Why Do They Call a Private a Private?” as written by Frank Loesser and Peter Lind Hayes.
Drop Me Off in Harlem
Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks perform “Drop Me Off in Harlem” (music by Duke Ellington, lyric by Nick Kenny, 1933) at their regular Monday night gig at Sofia’s Club Cache, in the basement of the Edison Hotel in New York City. Their shows regularly attract a group of excellent swing dancers.
Episode 3 (clip)
A New Step Every Day (1920s–early 1930s)
Episode 3 explores the fast and furious 1920s and ‘30s when jazz was hot, credit was loose, and illegal booze flowed freely in underground speakeasies.
Between performances, Michael explores the impact of talking pictures, the dawn of radio, and the fledgling recording industry and introduces us to collectors and musicians who keep the spirit of the Jazz Age alive today.
Pianist and Historian Peter Mintun performs this song by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn, on his Welte Mignon player piano. “Harlem Serenade” was introduced by Ruby Keeler in the 1929 show Ziegfeld Show Girl (whose score included “Liza” and “Do What You Do”).
I’ll Get By (Whiteman)
Bandleader Paul Whiteman accompanies singer Ilene Woods in “I’ll Get By” (music by Fred E. Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk, 1928) in a 1944 “Sing with the Stars” film for servicemen in World War II. Ilene Woods, who died in 2010 at age 81, was most famous as the singing voice of the animated 1950 Disney film Cinderella. She began singing and acting at the age of 2and by age 14, she had her own radio program on ABC radio entitled The Ilene Woods Show.
Michael Feinstein performs “My Romance” (music by Richard Rodgers, lyric by Lorenz Hart, 1935).
Peter Mintun House Tour
Collector Peter Mintun leads a self-guided video house tour of his home and collection in New York City.
“Buy Them Today, Play Them Tonight” was the appeal of the player piano, as historian and performer Peter Mintun explains to Michael Feinstein.
The Scat Song
Cab Calloway sings “The Scat Song” (music and lyric by Cab Calloway, Mitchell Parish, and Frank Perkins, 1932) from a short musical film. “Scat” singing and nonsense lyrics were very popular during the late 1920s/early ‘30s.
Paul Whiteman leads his band in several versions of his 1920 hit “Whispering,” the first record to sell a million copies. In this 1944 “Sing with the Stars” film for World War II servicemen, he does an “old-fashioned” version and a modern one.
You’re Just Another Memory
Rudy Vallee sings “You’re Just Another Memory” (music by J. Fred Coots, lyric by Lou Davis and Ray Klages, 1929) accompanied by his band The Connecticut Yankees in a short musical film. Vallee was one of the first to adopt a singing style suited to the new electric microphone, and was forefather to all the crooners to come.
You’re the Top
Michael Feinstein and David Hyde Pierce duet in “You’re the Top” (music and lyric by Cole Porter, 1934) in a live performance at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, Michael’s Manhattan nightclub. The song was written for the musical Anything Goes and Feinstein and Hyde Pierce added their own seasonal lyrics to mark the holiday season.
A clip from Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook: Season 2, Time Machines. Michael Feinstein visits with American Songbook collector Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.
A clip from Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook: Season 2, Time Machines.
“Time Machines” explores how technology has preserved—and altered—the way we think about the great songs and singers of the past.
On a coast to coast tour that with stops in New York, Palm Springs, Kansas City, upstate New York, and even the storied Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, Michael Feinstein introduces viewers to Soundies (the original music videos,) the historic Kansas City building where “jam sessions” were born (which still hosts after-hours gigs,) and an eclectic array of performers and collectors who help keep the music alive, including the avid collector and music lover Hugh Hefner, who shares rare footage of cabaret legend Bobby Short, and the British crooner Al Bowlly.
Lost and Found
A clip from Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook: Season 2, Lost and Found. Michael Feinstein visits with collector Ron Lawson.
“Lost and Found” reveals Michael’s discovery of an undocumented, unknown song by one of the giants of American popular music, and follows his quest to verify its authenticity.
Along the way, he persuades another musical legend, Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, to teach him an unpublished, unrecorded song from his songwriting “trunk” that’s never been prior to this broadcast.
Between live performances in Dallas, Palm Desert, CA, and Clinton, CT, Michael’s journey takes him to New York, Los Angeles, and Madison, WI. Guest appearance by Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole.
A clip from Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook: Season 2, Saloon Singers.
“Saloon Singers” examines the allure of musical nightlife, from Mississippi juke joints (where Michael dazzles the crowd with some impromptu boogie-woogie blues) to the neon of Las Vegas, where he gets a private tour of the now-closed Liberace Museum, and plays one of the rhinestone encrusted pianos.
While keeping up his own busy schedule of live performances at his New York nightclub, and the brand new performing arts center in Carmel, IN, Michael delves into the history of nightclub entertainment, from the Cotton Club in Harlem to Sinatra’s Rat Pack.
He goes through the archives of composer Jimmy McHugh—whose career spans Vaudeville to Vegas—and visits with nightclub pioneers Rose Marie (she literally “opened” Las Vegas in the 1940s) and the poet and author Maya Angelou, who used to make her living doing a calypso club act in San Francisco.