Feinstein gives new life to old tunes
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
Part of the Honolulu Symphony's Hawaiian Airlines Pop Series
Also featuring Azure McCall
8 p.m. today and Saturday
Blaisdell Concert Hall
A one-man Smithsonian Institution, Feinstein seeks out, records and performs the American songbook in a mission to extend the life span of tunes by a legendary crew of composers, from Ira and George Gershwin to Irving Berlin, from Johnny Mercer to Jerome Kern.
And now, he's formed a new record label, Feinery, to showcase the repertoire of Jay Livingston and Raymond B. Evans.
Plain and simple, Feinstein gravitates to the vintage songs that speak to his heart. He will share that passion when he guest stars with the Honolulu Symphony in a pair of Hawaiian Airlines Pops Concerts tonight and Saturday at Blaisdell Concert Hall.
"I've been a record collector since I was a kid," he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he calls home now. "Over the years, so many things have fallen through the cracks, whenever technology changes, and a lot of the old stuff is not reissued in the new format. I mean, from 78s to LPs, there are things that have vanished, and I want to help fill the gap."
His newly recorded "Michael Feinstein Sings the Livingston and Evans Songbook," savors songs by the team that created such hits as "Mona Lisa," "Tammy," "Silver Bells," "Que Sera Sera" and "Buttons and Bows."
"They are a great songwriting team," Feinstein said of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, "whose work is much underestimated because they won three Oscars for songs that were not their favorites. (The Academy Award winners were "Buttons and Bows," from 1948's "The Paleface," "Mona Lisa," from 1950's "Captain Carey, U.S.A." and "Que Sera Sera," from 1956's "The Man Who Knew Too Much.") They were simplistic in construction; people consequently think they're simplistic. But they have written some wonderful material, a vindication of their talent, which people inside the music industry have known about. However, very few albums of Livingston and Evans music have been done."
Feinstein is shining new light on this team. He is, of course, the beloved stylist who first found fame on the New York cabaret circuit when he played piano at the Algonquin Hotel in the mid-1980s, followed by his Broadway debut in "Isn't It Romantic" in 1988, a gig supported by his pal Liza Minnelli.
Now his career embraces symphonic appearances as well as club work. His name is associated with style, grace and taste, and with the opening three years ago of the nightspot Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, the singer-musician has been able to entice luminaries to share his passion for the great American songs.
Standards will never fall out of favor, he said.
"The music will always be around, because a lot of people care about them, and new audiences always discover them. And people like Diana Krall and Tony Bennett sing the standards in different ways, keeping the music alive."
But he often feels like a salmon struggling upstream, battling the prevailing current.
"Big record labels only want things that sell a million copies," said Feinstein. "Great music doesn't necessarily sell a million. It's my intention to stick to what I believe in. That's why I formed my label."
He created Feinstein's, a chic New York hangout, "to have a place with an intimate setting for a comfortable evening of good music and fun."
He works there only during December; his peers frequent the marquee throughout the year, helping Feinstein "fulfill a dream that I've had for a long time."