Michael Feinstein Biography

Michael Jay Feinstein, 7 September 1956, Columbus, Ohio, USA. A singer, pianist and musical archivist, Feinstein was a boy prodigy, able to play all manner of show tunes by ear. His mother was an amateur tap dancer and his father a singer and sales executive. After attending high school in Columbus he worked as a piano salesman in California, where he discovered some rare acetate recordings by Oscar Levant. He returned them to the actor/pianist’s widow, who secured him a job as archivist and personal assistant to two of popular music’s all-time great songwriters, Ira Gershwin and Harry Warren. In the late 70s and early 80s, as well as cataloguing their material, Feinstein unearthed several alternative Gershwin lyrics that had never been printed. Through Gershwin he met the lyricist’s god daughter, Liza Minnelli, and she opened a great many showbusiness doors for him. He also served as her accompanist, and played for other artists such as Rosemary Clooney, John Bubbles, Jessie Matthews, and Estelle Reiner.

During the 80s and 90s Feinstein appeared in cabaret in Britain and America. He made his Broadway debut with Michael Feinstein In Concert (1988), which later toured major US cities and returned to New York in 1990. Some five years later he presented An Evening With Michael Feinstein at London’s Comedy Theatre. He also filled the 18, 000-seater Hollywood Bowl twice in July 1987. On television, Feinstein has hosted his own Michael Feinstein And Friends special, as well as featuring in several tributes to legendary songwriters, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jule Styne. Therefore, it was entirely appropriate that he was chosen to pay homage to Gershwin in A Capitol Fourth, a spectacular Independence Day celebration held in Washington, DC, in 1998 - the centenary of the composer’s birth. As well as receiving an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by California State University, Los Angeles, Feinstein was concerned with many other Gershwin tributes during that year, including performances with Rosemary Clooney and Linda Ronstadt. Clooney subsequently became the first star to appear at the New York supper club, Feinstein’s, at the Regency Hotel.

By this time, Feinstein was becoming increasingly involved in writing and performing for television and films. He has also presented several series about the great American songwriters for BBC Radio 2. On his second album, 1987’s Live At The Algonquin, Feinstein sang Raymond Jessel’s ‘I Wanna Hear A Show Song’ (‘Please don’t bend my ear with punk or funk - it’s junk’), which summed up his musical philosophy perfectly. One of the joys of his performances is that he includes rarely heard songs - and unfamiliar verses to more popular songs - and sings them as he believes the writers intended them to be sung. His voice has been called ‘overly stylized - the high notes being rather faint, while the lower register is too loud’. Nevertheless, he has a good ear for phrasing, and is recognized as a leading expert and exponent of the American standard popular song.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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