Michael Feinstein is a five-time Grammy Award nominee whose interpretations of the Great American Songbook have earned him international recognition. His first CD celebrating Frank Sinatra, "The Sinatra Project," merited his most recent Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album in 2009. A former Ira Gershwin assistant, Feinstein is the founder of the Great American Songbook Foundation in Carmel, Ind. He is also the owner of two nightclubs: Feinstein's/54 Below in New York City and Feinstein's at the Nikko in San Francisco.
On Sunday, Aug. 6, Feinstein will perform at The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. Before his Berkshires appearance, Feinstein shared some of his favorite tunes with The Eagle.
What's your favorite ...
... Ira Gershwin song?
I don't have a single favorite. That's not possible because he wrote — there were about 825 published songs of his. One that I keep going back to is one called, "Isn't It a Pity." I guess that'd be close to a favorite.
... Frank Sinatra song?
I suppose, to be rather mundane, his recording of "I've Got You Under My Skin" still is one of the greatest single combinations of perfect orchestration and perfect vocal technique, working with Nelson Riddle. That recording started a whole new era of how to interpret these American popular songs. Sinatra created the modern swing style for interpreting these classic songs. Prior to his working with Nelson Riddle in the '50s, the way people sang the Great American Songbook was more staid. It was more traditional. And Sinatra in the '50s started creating a swing style. Now, most people think of the Great American Songbook in terms of the way Sinatra sang the songs, so that's a tremendous influence. And it's sort of like "I've Got You Under My Skin" was the shot heard `round the world, the musical shot that is.
... song about New York City?
Even though I've never really sung it, I love "New York State of Mind" [by Billy Joel]. I think that's a great song about New York because it's sort of unexpected. It's really a blues song, and it's not the kind of feel or energy one might connect with New York but really just captures a sense of how New York gets under your skin.
song about Indiana?
There's a Hoagy Carmichael song called "Can't Get Indiana off My Mind," written in the late '30s, that's fine. In those days, songwriters tried to write a song about every single place just for the sake of trying to get a hit song, and once in a while, they would write something that really had a sense of inspiration about it. It wasn't just trying to write something for the sake of commerce, and "Can't Get Indiana off My Mind" is a song that I think really reflects Hoagy Carmichael's love for the place where he was born and raised.
... song about San Francisco?
I don't even remember who wrote it [Tommy Wolf], but it's a song called, "I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco," which is associated with Carmen McRae. It's a great song because it's tongue-in-cheek and [about] how this person is always intoxicated with San Francisco, and the last line of the song is, `And I don't drink at all." It's a clever song.
... love song?
"Love Is Here to Stay" [by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin]
... song to perform live?
Certainly one that seems to be the one the audience requests most and that I do love to sing is "I Won't Send Roses," a song by Jerry Herman. It's sort of an anti-love song, and people just always request it.
... song that tells a story?
There's a song called "Old Friend" by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford that's a great song, tells a story, but another great song that tells a story is "The Brady Bunch" theme.
... song that would surprise your fans based on what you perform?
I love to listen to Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, which is — that's a nom de plume, if you will, for Jo Stafford and Paul Weston, who made an album in the '50s where she sang off-tune and he played piano poorly. And there's a record they made of "I Love Paris" that's intentionally horrible, and I like to play that at dinner parties to see if anybody notices how bad it is ... most of the time no one has any awareness. But once in a while, somebody will — in the middle of sipping their soup — will suddenly have a pained expression as they realize that the music ... is actually god-awful. That's something — I just like to listen to that recording for the sheer perverse joy of it.