Michael Feinstein: The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs

January 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Gershwins and Me978-1451645309 – Simon & Schuster – Hardcover –  $45 (ebook editions available at lower prices)

Michael Feinstein is doubtless the most active supporter and proponent of the Great American Songbook we have.  Aside from his own inspiring performances, he is an incredible impresario of the music he loves and that he loves to share.  His “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook” show is on PBS (and past seasons are available on DVD).  He performs more than 200 times a year, and records regularly.

Michael has been nominated for five Grammys, most recently in 2009 for The Sinatra Project and his TV special, Michael Feinstein – The Sinatra Legacy, is currently airing on PBS.

He is also the founder of the Feinstein Initiative, that preserves and promotes the Great American Songbook, and serves as Artistic Director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts, a $170 million, three-theatre venue in Carmel, Indiana, which opened in January 2011. The theater is home to an annual international Great American Arts festival, diverse live programming and a museum for his rare memorabilia and manuscripts. Starting in 2010, he became the director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2013, he will replace the late Marvin Hamlisch as the lead conductor of the Pasadena Pops.

His many other credits include scoring the original music for the film Get Bruce and performing on the hits television series “Better With You,” “Caroline in the City,” “Melrose Place,” “Coach,” “Cybill“ and “7th Heaven.”

Feinstein was born in Columbus, Ohio, where he started playing piano by ear as a 5-year-old. After graduating from high school, he worked in local piano bars for two years, and then moved to Los Angeles when he was 20. The widow of legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant introduced him to Ira Gershwin in July 1977. Feinstein became Gershwin’s assistant for six years, deeply influencing his life and setting him on the path that has become his life as a singer, songwriter and promoter of music.

In The Gershwins and Me, Feinstein tells a personal story in which each of the twelve chapters highlights one of the Gershwin classic songs, using them to tell the story of the Gershwin brothers and their family, illuminating their music and incredible creativity, and telling memorable personal stories throughout. In this unusual narrative, Feinstein tells a moving chronicle of his own life with the Gershwins and his vision of how their music inculcates so much of modern American life.  It’s a wonderful, personal and special book that I very much enjoyed discussing with author Michael Feinstein, whose amazing website demonstrates the incredible breadth of his work in music.Style: "p25+-Ipro"


David Lehman: A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs

May 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

978-0805242508 – Shocken Books – Hardcover – $23.00 (also available in e-book format)

What a lovely book this is.  David Lehman is an acclaimed anthologist and a poet (his most recent book of poems is Yeshiva Boys), and David’s approach to the great American songbook of the 20th century is complex and personal, written from an interior place, while at the same time, erudite and celebratory of the full glory of the words and music he writes about.  Lehman brilliantly evokes the individual lyricists and composers who made this music, so many of whom were the first generation children of immigrants from eastern European countries and were somehow able to meld their art with the true soul of America.  They created music that both evoked their era, and simultaneously defined it.

Lehman explores the rich complexity of American music in the early to mid-Twentieth Century, as the musical soul of Jewish songwriters melded itself to the African-American jazz and blues tradition to make something new and unique.  All the greats are here, Berlin, both Gershwins, Rogers, Hart, Hammerstein, and many more.  He tells the stories behind the songs, and brings to life the composers and lyricists who wrote them.

For David Lehman, this music is touchstone to his being, and that deeply felt connection shines through his words. Reading this book allows one then to connect to the author, also in a deeply felt way.  Lehman is a fine writer, in full command of his subject.  I liked what John Ashbery said about David: “David Lehman’s A Fine Romance wittily explores the enormous contribution of Jewish writers and composers to the American musical scene. Lehman finds Jewish influence, or what he calls ‘a plaintive undertow,’ even in such unlikely upbeat anthems as Gershwin’s ‘Love Walked In.’ His love-struck history is itself a major entertainment.”

Talking to this author about the stories and music, and especially the songwriters themselves was for me a natural extension of reading the book, and inhabiting the author’s personal life through its pages.  We covered alot of ground, including much about the unusual, impressionistic style and structure of the book, and of course the music, the songwriters, his many anecdotes and stories, and David Lehman’s obvious love of his subject.  I hope you will enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed the conversation with the author.