Singer, pianist, music revivalist Michael Feinstein performs at the Gordon Center in April.
Does Michael Feinstein ever sleep?
That’s what we asked ourselves after perusing his resume in preparation for the following interview. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how the world-renowned singer, pianist, recording artist, conductor, author, archivist, radio host, nightclub owner, artistic director and piano designer — yes, Feinstein designed a piano for Steinway & Sons — has been able to achieve so much in his 62 years on earth.
In advance of the performance, Feinstein took time out to talk with Jmore about his career, his nuptials and his mission to keep the Great American Songbook alive.
You’re known as the “Ambassador of the Great American Songbook.” Can you explain its history and what it comprises?
The Great American Songbook is a body of work that primarily begins in the early part of the 20th century and consists of a great deal of material written for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. They are songs that have stood the test of time. They are songs that we are still singing over 100 years later, and for me the Great American Songbook is ever evolving. If a song lives well past the time in which it was created and continues to speak to further generations, it becomes a permanent part of Americana.
What was your relationship to the Gershwin brothers and their legacy?
Ever since I was in my early teens, I was obsessed with the music of George Gershwin after I heard “Rhapsody in Blue.” In 1977, when I was 20 years old, I had the great good fortune to meet his brother Ira Gershwin, who wrote the lyrics for all the classic Gershwin songs. I spent six years working for him until his death at 86, and he taught me most of what I know about interpreting the Gershwin catalog.
George Gershwin singlehandedly changed the face of American popular music by writing “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Porgy & Bess” and “An American in Paris.” Ira Gershwin modernized the popular song style with his au courant and idiomatic lyrics of the time that have since become timeless.
You and your husband were married by Judge Judy Scheindlin. How’d that happen?
Yes, Terrence Flannery and I were married by Judge Judy and also by Rev. Gabriel Ferrer, who is the son of the great singer Rosemary Clooney, who was also a dear friend. Judy and I became friends almost 20 years ago when we met at the birthday party of a mutual friend, and we immediately clicked.
Since that time, she and her husband and Terrence and I have taken many trips together and had a lot of fun in life, and when it became possible for us to become legally married, Judy was the one who pressed us to do it and said that she wanted to be the one to sign our marriage license.
How do we keep the American Songbook alive for generations to come?
The American Songbook only lives when people care about the music and pass it along to other generations. I started the Great American Songbook Foundation in part to educate and present these songs to succeeding generations. The Internet provides unparalleled access to all kinds of music, but one has to be led to it. So our Songbook Foundation is something that engages and educates and brings to life this music, which in its sensibility is every bit as contemporary as anything written now because it speaks of the human condition.
What can the Gordon Center audience expect from your performance?
The performance will be with a jazz trio led by Tedd Firth, who is a remarkably gifted musician. It will not only have classic song selections but also some more contemporary pieces that have earned their place alongside the classic songs. One of the ways I have been able to survive in show business for a number of decades is by staying current with what is happening and finding ways to bridge the connection between classic and contemporary, and it’s a great deal of fun to do so.
I love live performing the most because it is immediate. It is affected by the audiences who become part of the show, and it’s very interactive with humor and a lot of joy.
For tickets, visit gordoncenter.com.