By L. Kent Wolgamott
Michael Feinstein has learned to be patient when it comes to touring these past couple of years. Like many musical artists, he saw touring plans go up in smoke because of the pandemic and is only now getting back to performing live.
“Some things have been postponed multiple times. I’ve learned firsthand to go with the flow and that things happen in the way they’re supposed to,” Feinstein said by phone. “It’s made me very zen.”
The routine is much the same in his lead-up to his shows.
“I really don’t put together a set list until just before I’m going to perform,” he said. “It has to do with how I’m feeling at that time and what I feel should be performed that night.”
Feinstein will perform at 7:30 p.m. July 27-29 at Feinstein’s Cabaret at the Hotel Carmichael in Carmel. He’ll sing some songs from “Gershwin Country,” the album he released this year on which he duets with country artists.
“Obviously, I’ll be doing them solo, along with some ‘standards’ associated with me,” he said. “Some of the songs will be vintage Michael Feinstein.”
“Gershwin Country,” which was recorded in 2019 but wasn’t released until March of this year, brings the Ambassador of the Great American Songbook to Music City, paired with the likes of Rosanne Cash, Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley and Lee Ann Womack, on songs by George and Ira Gershwin.
“That was the idea, to try and bring together two great traditions,” Feinstein said. “I just got an inspiration that the Gershwin songs are great stories in the lyrics, and country is the last stronghold of singers doing songs that tell stories. When I’d tell people about it, they looked at me like I was ready for the loony bin. After it was finished, everybody got it.
“It turned out exactly as I had hoped. The end result is great singers doing great classics.”
The arrangements of songs are distinctly country, including “Someone to Watch Over Me,” sung with Krauss; “I Got Rhythm,” performed with Paisley; and “Soon,” sung with Womack.
“That’s (‘Soon’) not one of the best-known songs,” Feinstein said. “But it might be my favorite.”
Country or otherwise, Feinstein’s choice of material to perform will feature plenty of songs that, during the last century, have become enduring classics.
“The craft of the songs are timeless, just as Shakespeare is timeless, or listening to Beethoven’s Ninth or seeing a Da Vinci drawing,” Feinstein said. “They’re all art that transcends the ages. I believe these songs, standards, have that resonance today.”
Feinstein, 65, was drawn to the Great American Songbook for as long as he can remember. His older brother and sister listened to pop while they were growing up in Ohio. But not little Michael.
“It was these songs that appealed to me as a child,” he said. “At 5 years old, I started picking them out on piano. It’s the music I love that has stayed with me for my whole life. It’s gratifying to be able to sing them for multiple generations.”
A musical anthropologist as well as the most acclaimed interpreter of the Great American Songbook going, Feinstein worked extensively with Ira Gershwin, including creating an archive of his work and that of his brother. Feinstein is a member of the National Recording Preservation Board, dedicated to preserving America’s musical treasures, and founded the Great American Songbook Foundation.
That foundation, Feinstein said, not only preserves and researches the songbook, but through its camps and scholarship programs is bringing a new generation of singers to follow in Feinstein’s footsteps.
Feinstein, the artistic director for the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, helped run the Songbook Academy from July 17-23.
His concerts this summer will showcase his ability to sing the timeless classics so effortlessly.
“It comes from a deep connection with the songs themselves, with experience having performed them for years,” Feinstein said. “It’s storytelling, it’s acting. It’s the most natural thing. I’ve done it for so many years. I’m happy I get to keep doing it.”