Joining the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall, Michael Feinstein
opened their Celebrity Series with his "The Sinatra Project"
program. He brought along musical director Bill Elliott, who did
most of the charts for Feinstein's cd of the same name, and "the
drummer that keeps him in line," Albie Berk.
Getting off to a rollicking good start, he opened the show with
Luck Be A Lady which was followed by a beautiful medley
of songs. Then turning to the specific focus for the evening's program,
Michael shared with the audience that Frank Sinatra had changed
the face of American popular music as we know it. He made songs
his own. He changed with the times and gave a new and fresh idea
and approach to songs, having sang in the 40's in the crooner style,
and then in the 50's it was swing!!
Explaining that he hadn't approached the "Sinatra Project"
an attempt to imitate Frank, but rather as a way to give life to
songs that Frank hadn't recorded in that distinctive swing style.
The first example he shared was I Thought About You
followed by Exactly Like You, which was done how Michael
imagined it would have sounded if Frank had recorded it with a Billy
With obvious pride at having developed a personal relationship
with Mr. Sinatra, Michael told the story of how he came to meet
Frank. When he was still struggling to "make it" in LA,
Michael was booked to play a private party for Frank at Chasen's.
In preparation for providing the evening's music, he learned every
obscure song that Frank had ever recorded. At the end of the evening,
Frank came over to him and said, "Jesus, how do you know all
of those songs? What are you twelve?"
Michael shared that Frank loved Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn's
songs and his favorite 40's ballad of theirs was Time After
Time which he did beautifully. That was followed by Cole
Porter's So In Love from his show Kiss Me Kate.
Just at Michael was about to sit down at the piano to accompany
himself on Johnny Mercer's Fools Rush In, an audience
member's cellphone went off. This proved to be a wonderful impetus
for the audience to hear just how phenomenally talented a pianist
Michael is and how when he says he learned to play by ear, he really
means it. He played back the ringtone we'd all just heard, and then
he expanded on the little ditty and played it in various styles
and made it sound like a classical piece of music. It was very impressive.
Next Michael talked about what a great friend Frank was to his
friends and how he would often gift them with songs and how usually
they became great hits for the singers. One example was Sammy Davis
Jr.'s huge hit What Kind of Fool Am I, which Michael
nailed! This song really showcased Michael's range and the power
of his voice. Very moving.
From Moss Hart and Cole Porter's show Jubilee, which one
critic described as having no good songs, Michael gave us his version
of Just One Of Those Things.
After a brief intermission, Michael opened the second half with
Cole Porter's At Long Last Love, which was followed by a little
plug for his
American Songbook series which is currently airing on PBS.
Frank often recorded Oscar nominated songs, one such example
that Michael shared with us was How About Me which
was from Babes on Broadway (it lost to that little number
by Berlin, White Christmas). This was followed by a song
Michael said lets him feel like a "heel" for just a few
minutes, Cole Porter's It's Alright With Me.
Describing how Frank often referred to himself as a saloon singer,
singing saloon songs, Michael figured that the description involved
a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other singing about lost
love, heartache and pain in his life, which Frank had his fair share
of. Michael recounted that once a friend was on a plane with Mr.
Sinatra who appeared very sad. The friend asked him if he missed
his wife, and Frank replied, "I miss all of my wives."
This story served as the introduction to Johnny Mercer's I
Remember You, which was supposedly written after Mr. Mercer's
short fling with Miss Judy Garland.
Paying homage to Frank's love for classical and classically themed
music, Michael performed an instrumental version of Brazil
that was arranged in a Billy May fashion.
After asking the audience if they knew whose music Frank recorded
the most, and having one very informed gentlemen shout out Sammy
Cahn (with 88 songs), Michael performed two of Sammy and Jimmy Van
Heusen's songs. The first, one he said was a favorite of the Sinatra
family, and the second an Oscar winner, All of My Tomorrows
and All the Way.
Taking another selection from the Broadway show Jubilee, Michael
performed Begin the Beguine. This was a song Frank had recorded
in the 40's but never recorded it again. Michael's version was arranged
to sound as if Nelson Riddle had written the charts for Frank back
in the 50's and boy did it ever.
Closing out the show Michael gave beautiful readings of For
Once In My Life and The Lady Is A Tramp (with
enthusiastic audience participation).
For his encore to the very
appreciative audience he sang New York, New York.
It had been a beautiful night of music and for those willing
to stand in line, it didn't have to end when the orchestra left
the stage. Michael had graciously agreed to autograph CDs after
one of the protective caretakers of the Great American Songbook.
He knows everything there is to know about the Gershwins, Rodgers,
Hart, Hammerstein, Porter and the rest of the people who composed
our favorite music. We should all be grateful to him for his hard
One Fan's Review
If you love the songs of the Great American Songbook, if you
are a fan of Rosemary, Frank, Bing, Tony or Peggy and you have never
seen Michael Feinstein in concert, or you haven't seen him in the
last couple of years, then GET THEE TO A CONCERT
AND FAST!! You will be oh so glad you did.!!
Michael, like his friend, mentor, and LA mother Rosemary
Clooney, only gets better with age. He was born with undisputable
natural talent as a phenomenal pianist and gifted singer. It's like
he's grown into those talents, he knows how to use each of them
to maximum effect in delivering the song. He's comfortable on stage
and has developed that give and take with the audience that was
always present in those singers' performances that he so admired.
And...he's funny...make that hilarious!!
I'm more convinced then ever that it really takes having some
living under your belt to be able to do justice to these timeless
songs. When Michael first came on the scene, it was like he sang
the song the way he "thought" it should be sung. It came
from his head. Not any more. Every song he performed in this concert
felt as if it came seamlessly from his heart. With personal feeling
fueling his talent and control of his impressive voice he was able
to fill that glorious hall, touch the audience and even move some
of us to tears.
Prior to this concert if someone had asked me if I knew what
the Nelson Riddle sound was, I would have said something like, "yes,
it's what's behind great recordings by Frank, Rosemary, Nat and
others." I didn't know that I really knew what that sound was
until Michael performed Begin the Beguine. As soon
as the music started, I immediately realized what the sound was.
You just learn so much at a Michael Feinstein concert.
As the evening progressed and he told story after story of each
song, or songwriter, or Frank's connection to them (without one
written note), I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that he could
just as easily have shared a "Crosby Project," "Clooney
Project," "Gershwin Project," or you name it project
with us. He really does know that much about these singers and songwriters
of the golden age.
Yes, he's the professor of the American Songbook and the protector
of the legacy of our treasured songwriters, but he's also one hell
of an entertainer. So again I say, GET THEE TO A CONCERT
Michael's production manager indicated that a number of his shows
in November will focus on the Sinatra Project.
ROSEMARY CLOONEY HOUSE
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