Michael Feinstein will be performing at the Strathmore Annual Spring Gala, Saturday, May 12th at 9 PM.
Michael Feinstein has built a dazzling career bringing the music of the Great American Songbook to the world. His five Grammy nominations, an acclaimed NPR series, and concerts spanning the globe have made him one of the most important musical forces of our time.
For more information and tickets, click here.
Please talk about what audiences can expect to experience if they attend the Strathmore Annual Spring Gala on Saturday, May 12th.
I’m truly looking forward to the Strathmore Spring Gala on May 12th. The program will be selections from the Great American Songbook performed with a first rate seventeen piece big band. It’s going to be a mixture of selections including Gershwin, a Sinatra medley that I’ve assembled that is a musical triptych saluting Sinatra’s career. The special guest at the gala will be Laura Osnes, who has a shimmering soprano voice and is a beautiful singer and a marvelous human being. She’s also a good friend. Laura will be doing some solo selections and will also be doing a duet. So the program will be fun, a lot of love songs, some swing music, and very interactive with the audience.
In 2007, you founded the Great American Songbook Foundation, helping you to earn the title as The Ambassador of The Great American Songbook. Please talk about the program and how it benefits the community.
The Great American Songbook foundation was originally created when I started looking at all of the material I had assembled relating to American popular song and trying to figure out what to do with all of it. Frankly the artefacts I’ve collected through the years are extraordinary and I wanted to find a permanent home for all of the materials including boxes of orchestrations, sound recordings, sheet music and other ephemera related to songwriters, some given to me by the families of those writers.
So I originally created the foundation to house those materials and to create a study center and a museum. We have a wonderful facility in Carmel, Indiana at the Center for the Performing Arts. The museum is very much in its formative stages and is moving forward. However, I must say the program that gets the most attention is our annual high school songbook academy where we have forty kids from all over the United States who come to participate in our annual week-long program, teaching them about the classic American popular song.
These are kids who listen to all different kinds of music but in one way or another have discovered the Great American Songbook through their parents, through a teacher, finding it on the internet or by their participation in perhaps a musical in school and then discovering more about the songwriters themselves, like Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter or Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Hoagy Carmichael. These young people’s lives are changed through this week long intensive where they are mentored by different judges and coaches and learn everything you can imagine about interpreting the songs. So that is one of my proudest creations with The Great American Songbook Foundation. The other is our Perfect Harmony program where we have music three times a week for people suffering from dementia and alzheimer’s and other memory problems. That program is about to grow and expand outside of the confines of our institution.
How did Ira Gershwin change your life?
I met Ira Gershwin in 1977 when I was twenty years old and he was eighty years old and we had the most marvelous connection from the beginning because even though there was sixty years between us (there was a sixty year age difference or an age gap), we spoke the same language because it seemed as if I had been subconsciously preparing for the moment I would meet Ira from the time I first discovered Gershwin music when I was in my early teens.
I ended up working for Ira, spending six years as his personal assistant and his archivist and it was an experience that was indeed life changing for me because he taught me most of what I know about interpreting American popular music. He was a very kind gentle man and he never had any children. And so I became like the grandson that he never had. I also learned life lessons because of the six years I spent with him from age twenty to twenty six, which I consider to be important, formative years. So Ira changed my life, spiritually, culturally, professionally, and in many other ways.
Please talk about your friendship with actress and singer Liza Minnelli.
The first time I met Liza Minnelli was at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when there was the restoration of the movie “A Star Is Born” and they were showing that restoration for the first time. I had been involved tangentially in that restoration and we met very briefly, but I really got to know her after a party I played at her father, Vincent Minnelli’s home, a Christmas party later that year, and at the end of the evening, she sat down next to me on the piano bench and said “You know from now on we’re going to be joined at the hip.” And it was something that I found rather unbelievable, but it turned out to be true.
After that night she came into the nightclub where I was working to hear me perform almost every single evening. We deeply bonded through the music and through our mutual connections because Ira Gershwin was her godfather, she was named after the Gershwin song Liza and Vincent Minnelli and Ira’s wife, Leonora Gershwin, were very close friends to Vincent and I have gotten to know Vincent, thanks to them. So Liza and I became like brother and sister and have been so ever since. She has been wonderful to me, she hosted my first major performance in New York at The Argonkan Hotel in 1986 and has been present for many other watershed moments in my life. So it’s a very strong bond and it’s the music (The Great American Songbook) that brought us together.
Is there a particular song that you sing that defines who you are as a person?
Well the thing that springs to mind is the song “Love Is Here To Stay.” As I have evolved in my personal life, I find that the most important thing is the way we live with kindness and the way we treat other people. I’ve had personally a rather volatile life. In that I mean my inner spiritual life has been one of great searching and longing and when I was younger even though I had great desires to be a good person and to do good things and I did (I think most of the time). There were other times when I did things of which I’m not proud, fueled by an inner disease and unhappiness and therefore I’ve learned that to be kind to other people and to have gratitude all the time are essential elements for a happy existence.
WATCH MD Theatre Guide’s interview with Michael Feinstein from 2013.