Since the earliest days of his career, crooner Michael Feinstein has been devoted to the music of the Great American Songbook, the informal collection of the best songs from the leading songwriters of the first half of the twentieth century, among them George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.
Feinstein will return to South Florida on Saturday, Feb. 9 for a performance at the Kravis Center, this time performing the works of Gershwin and his lyricist brother, Ira.
Feinstein has a special connection to the music of the Gershwins: As a young man in 1977, Feinstein was introduced to Ira, who hired him to catalog an extensive collection of phonograph records. Feinstein’s assignments grew, leading to a six-year stint researching, cataloging and preserving unpublished sheet music and rare recordings.
Not only did this work secure the legacy of the Gershwin brothers, it set in motion a whirlwind career for the young musician.
“The years between 20 and 26 are important in anyone’s life, but I had the great advantage of being in (Ira Gershwin’s) world and learning about life and music,” Feinstein recalled. “It was a very heady experience.”
Thirty years later, he compiled his experiences in a memoir, The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs with an accompanying CD that serve as the inspiration for his latest tour.
“I haven’t done a full Gershwin show in many years,” explained Feinstein, who described the performance with a 17-piece big band as a “whole lot of wonderful.”
In addition to the music, he’ll be sharing stories from his time in the Gershwin home.
“One of the things I’ve discovered is that people are fascinated by the stories, especially the funny ones,” he said.
Years from now, Feinstein’s legacy will include his steadfast efforts to preserve the Great American Songbook.
In addition to producing several performance series for PBS, Feinstein became the artistic director of The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, outside Indianapolis, in 2009. The $170-million-center is home to three theaters and the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative, a national effort to promote the classic songs to a new generation.
“It’s all part of an effort to keep the Songbook alive for thousands and thousands of kids who are interested in music,” said Feinstein. “Really, the songs survive because they are chameleon-like. They can be interpreted and well performed.”
Feinstein proved exactly that two years ago when he teamed up with Cheyenne Jackson for a series of performances that included some of the most popular love songs of stage and screen, sung by two openly gay men, and resulted in a critically acclaimed album, The Power of Us.
“Working with any artist creates a synergy or specific point of view that is organic. With Cheyenne, we set out to produce a recording that expresses who we are. There was no intention to create a show that was gay,” he said, “but we both decided to do songs that reflect our beliefs and how we’d like to see the world.”
For example, We Kiss in a Shadow from The King and I, has a very different meaning today. When it was written more than 60 years ago, it spoke about forbidden love between people of different races.
“By virtue of two out men performing them, it is a statement,” he added.
If you go
What: Michael Feinstein
When: Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m.
Where: Kravis Center, West Palm Beach
How Much: $25 and up
For More Information: www.Kravis.org