Feinstein updates the Songbook in show coming to Wharton


Singer/songwriter and American Songbook archivist Michael Feinstein returns Saturday to the Wharton Center with a show called “Shaken and Stirred.” He’ll be joined by a five-piece band and singer Storm Large, who, he said, “not only sings the Great American Songbook brilliantly, but can do everything from Kurt Weihl to the Grateful Dead.” The song list will “run the gamut from Gershwin to Great Balls of Fire, Hoagy Carmichael and Harry Warren to Bacharach and David.

What is the Great American Songbook?

“For me, for a song to be part of the songbook, the song is known 20-30 years and continues to have popularity, and it’s interpreted by many different people. Where it’s not about a recording of something but about the song itself, like the Carol King songs, Joni Mitchell or Billy Joel.

You haven’t produced a CD in five years. Anything coming?
“I’m working on a CD called “Gershwin Country.” It’s duets of Gershwin songs with country singers, including Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Lyle Lovett and Alison Krauss. I’ve never wanted to do a duet album, per se, but I was thinking who were the great interpreters of lyrics these days, and those are country singers because they still tell stories and sing the words. It’s one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on. It will come out early next year.”

Are you doing all the duets in the studio with the artists or are they phoning them in, so to speak?
“Most are face to face. I flew to Houston to work with Lyle, and was in Nashville just last month with Alison. We’ve had to do a couple virtually, but I’m lucky enough to know the artists and we still can evolve a routine in a real interpretation. Because that’s the thing. A lot of these duet albums sound phony, and then what’s the point?”

Tony Bennett was the only artist on Sinatra’s duet albums who insisted on doing it with him. And you can tell the difference.
“Sinatra recorded all of those songs solo, and then the producer, Phil Ramone, took them and turned them into duets. He had no input about how they’re going to turn into duets, except I didn’t know that about Tony, but Sinatra just sang the songs. So even though they were the best-selling recordings of his career, that I hear, they were done in the most ass-backwards way.”

I see you just bought a mansion in Pasadena.
“That house was really found by my husband, Terrence Flannery. I realized that this house has the space on the lower level for an archive that I’ve only dreamed about. A lot of my material has been donated to my Great American Songbook Foundation for the purpose of benefiting young people, and it’s a great organization, I must say. But some of the things that I still hold, I’m processing and such. This house will have a basement archive, 10,000 square feet with library shelves. It’ll be the kind of archive I can only dream about. And I imagined that eventually, after we shuffle off this mortal coil, this house will probably become a museum or some sort. We’ll just be temporary tenants of it.”

Your club in New York, Feinstein’s/54 Below, is intimate. The Wharton Center holds 2,200 people. Do you have a favorite kind of place to perform?

“It isn’t any different for me as a performer in that the rules are the same. It’s about connecting with people. As far as favorite venues, I must say working at the Pasadena Pops. I conduct the Pasadena Pops and we have a summer venue at the Arboretum, which is a gorgeous park with roaming peacocks and a beautiful lagoon. I love Carnegie Hall. I also do like Feinstein’s/54 Below because it’s an elegant room. It’s conducive to making music because a couple of million dollars were spent in refurbishing the room. It’s the things that people don’t see — the sound system, the lighting and all of those things that are essential components that make for comfort.”

You also own a club in Los Angeles.
“Feinstein’s at Vitello’s. That’s another fine room that we took, fluffed and turned into a beautiful space. And Liza Minnelli allowed us to copy her iconic Warhols, and we have a Liza room that’s fun to hang out in before and after the show. We will be opening a Feinstein’s in Carmel, Indiana — where the Great American Songbook Foundation exists — inside a new hotel. We’ve had an offer for Australia, and we just had an offer for another city in California. It’s sort of evolving on its own, which is a wonderful thing.”

“Shaken & Stirred”

Saturday, Oct. 12, 8-9:30 p.m.

$38-$100 general, $19 18 & under

Wharton Center for Performing Arts, Cobb Great Hall

750 E. Shaw Lane

www.whartoncenter.com,  1-800-WHARTON


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