Thursday, November 1, 2012

Michael Feinstein at Westminster Presbyterian Church

Michael Feinstein, 10/25/12. (Photo by Mark Taylor.)

Terrence Flannery, my wife Pondie, and me, 10/25/12.
Last week I heard Michael Feinstein speak at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. His talk, entitled “The Gershwins: Preserving an American Cultural Legacy,” was part of Westminster Church’s Town Hall Forum lecture series. Feinstein was promoting his new book, “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs.” I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t give a full review of it, but it’s a beautifully designed book about the music of George and Ira Gershwin. Feinstein uses twelve songs by the Gershwins as the framework to analyze their music. A CD of Feinstein performing the twelve songs is also included with the book. When Feinstein was 20 years old he started working for Ira Gershwin, and he helped Ira catalogue his music collection. For Feinstein, it was truly a dream job. He worked with Ira for six years, until Ira’s death in 1983. 

Feinstein is a very eloquent speaker, he’s knowledgeable without coming across as pedantic, and he has a great respect for music but he still likes to tell humorous anecdotes to enliven stories. When I heard him last week, he spoke extemporaneously in perfect paragraphs, with no verbal hesitations, no “um’s” or “ah’s” at all. As anyone who has watched Feinstein’s delightful “Great American Songbook” series on PBS knows, he has so much passion for the music of the Great American Songbook and for all music in general. It’s wonderful that American popular music has a steward as dedicated as Feinstein is to the preservation and dissemination of this music. During the program he spoke about the Gershwins, his relationship with Ira Gershwin, and he played a couple of songs on the piano, including “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” He then took questions from the audience for about 20 minutes.

Michael Feinstein has been one of my favorite singers since I was a little kid; I was probably 8 or 9 when I first heard him, thanks to my Mom. His music was how I was first exposed to the music of the Great American Songbook. I remember listening with glee to his albums “The MGM Album” and “Over There,” a collection of songs from World War I. My favorite song on “Over There” was a tongue-twister called “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers.” I also remember seeing Feinstein in concert around that time, probably 1989-91. The first concerts that I can remember going to are Michael Feinstein, Harry Belafonte (I loved “Beetlejuice”!) and The Beach Boys. And even though my musical palate has expanded since then, I still love listening to Michael Feinstein, Harry Belafonte, and The Beach Boys. 

Michael signed copies of his book after the program, and he is such a nice person. I’ve met him once before, back in 2003 at a concert he did with Jimmy Webb, and I was struck then by his niceness too. My wife and I told Michael that friends of ours sang “Our Love Is Here to Stay” at our wedding. I can’t remember exactly what he said in response, but he was just so nice. He was also very nice to my Mom, as well, who also got her book signed. My wife and I also went over to talk to Michael’s husband, Terrence Flannery. We’ve enjoyed seeing Michael’s relationship with Terrence in the “Great American Songbook” series, and we recognized Terrence from the shows. Terrence was super nice to talk to; we visited with him for a few minutes, and even got our picture taken with him! It was a wonderful evening, and a lot of fun to hear Michael Feinstein talk about the music that he loves the most.

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