"Call Me Adam" catches up with multi-platinum-selling, two-time Emmy and five-time Grammy Award-nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein! This time around we talk about Michael's March 25th concert at Carnegie Hall, Standard Time with Michael Feinstein: Beyond the Rainbow: Celebrating E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. Click here for tickets!
1. On March 25, you will be performing at Carnegie Hall. What are you looking forward to most about returning to Carnegie Hall? What is it like to perform there now? For this particular concert, we are going to be in Zankel Hall, which is part of a three-shift series I do at Carnegie Hall every season. I play Stern auditorium about every 18 months and then do this series which focuses on tributing different musical themes and subjects that are close to my heart. I think this concert saluting "Yip" Harburg will be a great one. I think everybody that plays Carnegie Hall has the feeling they have to be at the top of their game and it's a heightened experience knowing what has gone on there before. There is also a certain kind of reverence that is shared by everyone onstage and off from the crew to the staff.
In 1978, I was 22 years old and I sang two songs as part of a Gershwin concert and I remember being very excited about that. I was speaking to Lauren Bacall, who was a close friend of Ira and Leonore Gershwin and she said, "Michael, you're going to sing at Carnegie Hall" and I said, "Yes, but I don't know where I go from there." She said (in that centurion voice), "Straight down." She was right because it was a number of years until I got near the Carnegie Hall stage again, but since then, I've had the opportunity to perform there multiple times.
It's still a great thrill for me to perform at Carnegie Hall. It's like a home away from home for me. Performing at Carnegie Hall is also a bit of a full circle experience because my great uncle was the oldest member of the stage hand's union and all the stage hand's were friends with him. So, when I first performed at Carnegie Hall, all those guys knew me and some of them are still there all these years later, so it's very special for me to see them still.
2. This particular concert is celebrating lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. What made now the right time for you to celebrate his music with a concert dedicated to his music? "Yip" is somebody I knew thanks to Ira Gershwin (Ira and "Yip" were classmates in school). "Yip" is somebody who is not celebrated enough even though his songs are well known. He's in the pantheon of lyricists and recently having gotten the 3D release of The Wizard of Oz, it reminded me just how important his work is to contemporary culture. As a result of that viewing, I felt this was a good time to celebrate him again.
3. When did you initially connect in with "Yip's" music where it made you go, one day I want to do a concert of his work? Well, certainly, like everyone, at least in America, I knew The Wizard of Oz from the time I was a kid. I really became aware of Harburg when I was in my teens and started listening to other show music. I initially met "Yip" at my first Carnegie Hall concert because "Yip" spoke that night about his friendship with the Gershwins. Then I reconnected with "Yip" when I started working for Ira Gershwin around 1978. So this concert is a very full circle moment for me.
4. Joining you on stage with be the talents of Nancy Anderson, Malcolm Gets, and Catherine Russell. What are you looking forward to most about performing with them? There all consummate artists, all great interpreters of these songs and they mine the gold from the lyrics in these songs. They are three very unique talents and different in their vocal sound, the range, the approach, and their sensibility, but they all have a deep appreciation of "Yip" Harburg's work. I think it's the perfect combination of styles for "Yip" who was a musical chameleon.
Malcolm I met many years ago and he's going to do some comedic songs which he does very well and he's going to play the piano and accompany himself on one song. Catherine Russell is a great Jazz singer who is firmly rooted in the American Songbook, so she has more of a connection to lyrics than a lot of other jazz interpreters. Nancy, to me, is the embodiment of being able to channel the essence of the Golden Age of song interpreters by approaching the songs with what I call "deceptive simplicity" and making them sound au courant.
5. What made you want to have Tedd Firth on Piano, Sean Smith on Bass, and Mark McLean on Drums? I've worked with all of them a lot and I know they are the finest in their field and will bring great variety to the music. Tedd is doing some fresh arrangements on some of these songs. That's no small feat given some of them are so well known. It will be, what I feel, the perfect accompaniment.
6. What do you hope audiences come away with after attending this concert? A greater awareness and appreciation for the genius that is "Yip" Harbrug.
7. For someone who is very familiar with E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, what will you bring to this concert to make it your own? My personal relationship with him and giving a sense of who he was as a man and framing the songs with anecdotes that will make them hear them in a different way.
8. What's the best advice you've ever received? When I was recording for the first time, I was with Rosemary Clooney in the studio and she said to me, "Smile honey when you sing. Even though people can't see it on a record, they can hear it."
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? That the key to the success in anything is being true to yourself.
10. How do you want to be remembered? I can't say that I want to be remembered in that it doesn't matter if I want to be remembered or not. I focus on putting something good in the world and I hope that I've contributed to the preservation of the music that I love.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? If I were choosing a super power for fun, it would be to fly because I have so many dreams about flying. Other than that, the best super power to have would be to lay on your hands and heal people.
12. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? I would call it "Michael's Mojo." It would include Vodka and fresh coconut water (and I don't mean coconut water from a can or preserved in a box), I mean pure, fresh coconut water from an actual coconut mixed with vodka. It has to be the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. It takes the edge off the tartness of the vodka and gives it a sweetness. It goes down really smooth.
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, Michael 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.
Most recently, Concord Records released A Michael Feinstein Christmas. Michael, accompanied by venerable GRAMMY-award winning jazz pianist Alan Broadbent (Charlie Haden, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole), puts his signature stylings on a selection of holiday standards.
Michael 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, IN, aired across the country in 2011. The PBS series Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook was the recipient of the ASCAP Deems-Taylor Television Broadcast Award. The series returned in 2013 for a third season, which is now available on DVD. His next primetime TV Special on PBS, Michael Feinstein at The Rainbow Room, aired on New Year’s Eve, 2014. For his nationally syndicated public radio program Song Travels, Michael interviews and performs alongside of music luminaries such as Bette Midler, Neil Sedaka, Liza Minnelli, Rickie Lee Jones, David Hyde Pierce and more.
His new book, a Los Angeles Times best-seller, 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. 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. He recorded We Dreamed These Days, featuring the Carmel Symphony Orchestra; Feinstein co-wrote the title song with Dr. Maya Angelou.
Michael was named Principal Pops Conductor for the Pasadena POPS in 2012 and made his conducting debut in June 2013 to celebrated critical acclaim. Under Michael’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 arrangements. In June 2014, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts announced the launch of the MICHAEL FEINSTEIN CONDUCTS THE KRAVIS CENTER POPS ORCHESTRA which sold out 3 shows.
Michael 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. Since 1999, he has served as Artistic Director in collaboration with ASCAP for the immensely popular series at Carnegie Hall, Standard Time with Michael Feinstein. Starting in 2010, he became the director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.
He 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 2013 Michael released, Change Of Heart: The Songs of Andre Previn, (Concord) in collaboration with legendary composer-conductor-pianist Andre 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." Previn’s work is highlighted with four Oscars and 11 GRAMMY Awards.
In 2005, Michael 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, Michael 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 to 1996 and featuring old favorites and previously unreleased tracks.
His nightclub, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, presented the top talents of pop and jazz from 1999 – 2012, including Rosemary Clooney, Glen Campbell, Barbara Cook, Diahann Carroll, Jane Krakowski, Lea Michele, Cyndi Lauper, Jason Mraz and Alan Cumming. The club was closed in December of 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 of 2013 and Feinstein’s on Broadway will open at a new location in 2015 and also plans for a future nightclub in London.
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, Cybil, 7th Heaven and Devious Maids.
The roots of all this work began in Columbus, Ohio, where Michael started playing piano by ear as a 5-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 Michael 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, Bob Merrill and Amanda Green), Feinstein is an all-star force in American music.