Friday, February 22, 2013

The One and Only Michael Feinstein!



(Photo: Phil Konstantine, Wikipedia)

Happiness is not something you experience.  It is something you remember.
-Oscar Levant

Michael Feinstein’s whole desire in life is to become more connected with the trinity of mind, body, and spirit and to live a more balanced life and to become a better person by expressing more love and constantly being mindful of gratitude and putting something wonderful in the world.

Feinstein spoke recently with me about the future of Feinstein's, the club, as well as his public television and National Public Radio programs, among other activities.
Michael Feinstein is one of my favorite entertainers. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t hear his voice. His CDS are on my Ipod which is always on shuffle.
I never know when he’s going to pop up. I also listen to Jonathan Schwartz on Sirius Radio every day from 12-3 EST (4PM on Sundays) and as I sit down to write this I’m listening to Seriously Sinatra. I always have music playing in the background as I write. The guest DJ today is Petula Clark who I had the pleasure of meeting at Michael’s namesake, Feinstein’s. 
Petula Clark and Richard Skipper at Feinstein's
Feinstein’s, the club, sadly closed on December 31st of this past year.
It is sad because it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. That being said, don’t feel sad for Michael. He will bring a new club to us bigger and better than ever. Interestingly enough, as I write this, Petula is singing Seasons in The Sun. Feinstein’s served its purpose in its time and place. Now it is time for the next chapter. I also am deeply indebted to Michael for his love and respect for our rich musical heritage. As someone with such respect for the history of the arts, I fear daily that it is being forgotten and negated. Thank God for all the hard work Michael has put into preserving it.
Michael and I sat down to talk shortly before Feinstein’s closed and to celebrate the release of his book, The Gershwin’s and Me, which I highly recommend. Those of you who follow my blog know that I dig a little deeper into the subjects of my blog. I desire to know what makes them tick and how they get from point A to point B and beyond. I call it celebrating a person’s body of WORTH.
One of the greatest shows that I saw this year, which happened to be at Feinstein’s, was Michael’s show with Marilyn Maye. I regret that they did not record this. It truly was one of the best evenings I have ever spent at any LIVE show! Michael ended the year AND Feinstein’s with another of my favorite entertainers, Christine Ebersole. I regret that I missed it. Over the years, Michael has done shows with so many great entertainers. Cheyenne Jackson and Alan Cumming come to mind, and in the past, Rosemary Clooney. A couple of years ago, The Bistro Awards honored Michael for his Duets series.
Michael Feinstein singing Sinatra in 2012 at the performing arts center  in Carmel, Indiana,  Credit: Zach Dobso














Michael and me
I asked Michael if there was anyone out there that he has not sung with that he desires to and he said no. Recently, he got to work with Andre Previn which was one of Michael’s great desires. To Michael, he is one of the greatest musicians on the planet. They recorded a CD of Andre’s songs with Andre at the piano. That was deeply fulfilling for Michael. It was something he had dreamed about. Michael called him and he said yes. As of our interview, no one else came to mind who Michael said he really desired to work with.
The afore mentioned Rosemary Clooney is someone whose singing Michael had adored from the time he was a child. Her singing was something that went to his heart in a way that made him feel that he knew her and he desired to meet her. Fate conspired to make that happen when Michael started working for Ira Gershwin. They met and she became like a second mom. She always referred to Michael as her sixth kid. 
Singing with Rosemary was one of the most joyous experiences he ever had on stage because she was so connected to everything she sang and such deep love in her music that it filled Michael up and opened him up in ways that was very special.
Michael is very present and in the moment and is not able to visualize where he will be in five years. 
eason Three of "Michael Feinstein's American Songbook" premieres on PBS in April (Courtesy: Amber Edwards)













Courtesy Amber Edwards

He can tell me desires. One thing that he still hopes to do someday is to write a musical. He has worked on a number of shows. He worked on one show for five years called The Gold Room. There is talk that it might be produced in England. He sees musicals on Broadway these days that are so misguided in not recognizing the basic tenet of what makes a musical great, which is a song comes a moment in the plot when that emotion cannot be expressed in any other way. In the three or four minutes of that song, it should move the audience forward emotionally in a quantum leap.  When the words can’t be said, they should be sung. And when they can’t be sung, they should be danced.
Michael misses that in musicals. He feels that that is something he can do.
George Gershwin is one of Michael’s heroes in the arts, George Abbott, also. Michael always admired Hugh Martin for his extraordinary variety in what he wrote. His songs always had an unexpected quality to them.
They were not where you would expect them to go. They always had a lyrical or musical surprise in them that Michael loved and yet they were extremely accessible. The composer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, is a favorite composer of Michael’s. Michael tends to gravitate to the more romantic writer, a more melodic and harmonic palate that is rooted in a romantic expression.  Oscar Levant is a hero or an anti-hero! He had such a tormented soul but still had such greatness in him that he was never able to recognize.
His work inspires Michael.
On the set of Shall We Dance, 1936: (L to R) Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, Mark Sandrich, Ginger Rogers, George, Ira Gershwin & Nat Shilkret.
PHOTO COURTESY Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts (Thank you, Amber Edwards)
I asked Michael what work he had done the day of the interview to make himself a better artist. 
He meditated for forty-five minutes.
Working for Ira Gershwin for six years and one month changed Michael’s life.
It was his college education. It was the turning point in turning Michael towards what he does now. Rosemary Clooney was also important. 
Liza Minnelli greatly changed Michael’s life. They first met in 1983. 
Liza on the set of her mom's Summer Stock with Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers (Courtesy: Amber Edwards)

Liza opened up musical possibilities to Michael that he had not experienced before.

Just watching how she creates an interpretation of a song or a performance and the attention to details and the orchestrations and the movement of a hand in the moment and making it seem so organic is one of the greatest lessons he has ever had in interpretation and how to reach people.
Liza, Michael thinks in spite of all of her extraordinary success, is greatly underestimated.

She is so spectacular and she is so damned smart and so articulate. She is one of the most brilliant people that Michael has ever encountered.
He just adores her.

There have been a lot of questions regarding the future of Feinstein’s, the club. They are currently scouting new locations for it. 
Hunter Hayes

Michael desires to open a larger nightclub and have a place for dancing and a backroom with a piano bar, a nightclub truly in the classic tradition. Offers have actually been placed on two separate locations. They are waiting to see how negotiations go.
He suspects that by autumn, a new room will be opening. As far as personal activities this year, Michael is preparing for his first engagement as a conductor with the Pasadena Pops. He is taking over Marvin Hamlisch’s post. It will be taking up a lot of his time. 

He is also continuing programs for his NPR series called Song Travels. They began their second season this past January. They are one hour shows that are half conversation and half music. He interviews artists, everyone from Joshua Bell to Wynton Marsalis to Bette Midler to Eric Hutchinson to Gloria Gaynor to Jake Shimabukuro, the ukulele virtuoso to Hunter Hayes, who just turned twenty one and is one of the great musical luminaries of the County scene. He’s got a great future ahead of him. He’s an amazing artist. This show has been fantastic because it stretches Michael out of his comfort zone and educates him a lot in different types of music. He often performs with these artists on the show and loves doing that although it takes tremendous preparation and work. He will continue to do those. Listen to guest Stephen Holden into "Tambourine Man" and "A Case of You" with host 
How would Michael define bravery? Bravery is moving through fear and trusting that the outcome will be correct regardless of what it is.
Michael’s biggest vice is probably food. He is a vegan. He eats healthy in the sense that he has had no animal products for ten years and his body reflects that as tests go. Heart disease and other issues run in his family and every year his checkup is impeccable. However, he still binges on vegan food which can be a lot of carbohydrates and causes him a lot of pain sometimes for doing that even though he is very mindful of his weight and all that.Nobody would necessarily know or see that. He believes there have been times when it has been visible in the past.

with Jeremy Denk (Courtesy Amber Edwards)
Michael’s greatest virtue is to make people feel better or happier through his music although he hasn’t spent much time thinking about this. Michael’s secret to longevity is reducing stress in whatever ways that are possible.

If Michael could go back to any year in his life, there are several possibilities. His first impulse is to go back to the time he met Ira Gershwin in 1977. 
That was a very important year for Michael. He moved to California and met Ira and was meeting a lot of other important people in Los Angeles that changed his life.
Of course, he’d like to go back with the wisdom he has now. He wishes that he made a few different choices at that time. There were so many people that he met through Ira. He didn’t always ask the questions he now wishes he’d asked. He didn’t always do what he wishes he had done. That was such a magical time. Before he met Ira, he thought that his entire life would be spent in piano bars which satisfied him but he would have missed a lot of things that have happened since then.

When Michael is working, he needs to be completely alone. He cannot be disturbed. He is a very solitary person and a very shy person. 
with Stephen Sondheim
He needs to stay focused. That is why he is not out a lot at night. That is time when he can be alone without a lot of distractions.

Michael Feinstein's  Great American Songbook High School Vocal Academy and Competition is a celebration of the Golden Age of American Popular music. This program is the only high school vocal competition in the U.S. dedicated solely to the music from Broadway, Hollywood musicals and the Tin Pan Alley era of the early to mid-twentieth century. The Vocal Academy & Competition was created to provide an opportunity for young people to experience firsthand this uniquely American music and its cultural significance.

I spoke to Michael about expanding this program beyond high school to different age brackets. He thinks it is a really great idea. He agrees that there are many with extraordinary talents who haven’t had the chance or the opportunity or the breaks to share it. It is something he will truly think about. Of course, the fundamental challenge is that people are inclined to get more enthusiastic about youth. Sadly, this is a youth oriented world  and even in his own career, Michael feels that he has been able to sustain because he has worked very hard at reinventing himself and yet staying true to his musical ideals. 
The Gershwins (Courtesy Amber Edwards)
Show business is one of the hardest professions in that respect. Michael has tremendous respect for talent and compassion for people who haven’t the opportunity to fulfill that talent. 

Michael is going to think about this and see if there isn’t something he can create.

I asked Michael if he had been in despair over a project and if so, how he overcame that despair. 

He answered yes; he has been in despair over a project. One of the things that he has had to work on through his life is fear and he has had to push through that fear many times in his life with varying degrees of success. Now he has become better equipped to do that. He knows how to move through fear by focusing on the goal he wishes to achieve by becoming as prepared as he can. He has learned to let go of the chatter in his conscious mind. It is the conscious brain that sabotages the balance of not being able to contemplate or meditate and it will take over and cause any of us to crash and burn. So, for Michael, he understands that when a negative thought comes into his mind on something that he is working on, that “it ain’t necessarily so.” It is learning to move forward and focus on the work.

There are certain songs that Michael looks forward to singing as he gets older, such as This is All I Ask which is a beautiful song of maturity. It is a song of advanced years. There are certain songs that should only be sung at certain periods in our lives.  Blame It On My Youth, Michael jokingly says he may have to stop singing since he is fifty six! A singer can only sing the song Too Young  when they are too young or close to that. There are a lot of Sondheim songs that Michael loves. He adores Sondheim’s work, and yet, he hasn’t sung some of those songs because he knows that Sondheim prefers, as he has told him, in a theater setting EXACTLY as he wrote them. Because of that, Michael has become intimidated at the thought of singing Sondheim’s songs because he might not like the way they are interpreted.

Ira Gershwin and Michael Feinstein on Ira's 81st birthday...Photo courtesy Michael Feinstein
Karen Morrow in my interview with her had an interesting comparison between Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim. She has done shows by each and concerts honoring each. 
She feels that Herman’s music is audience driven and that Sondheim’s are character driven.  Michael is not crazy, for example, about the song Send in the Clowns and yet he loved it the way Bernadette Peters did it when he saw her in A Little Night Music. Yet, for Michael, he doesn’t hear great emotion when he hears it. It feels more clinical to him and that’s just an emotional or visceral response to it. That can happen with a song.
Does Michael believe in reincarnation? It is a matter of fact and course for him.
I ended the interview by asking Michael how he would like to be remembered. This may seem odd but he doesn’t care if he is remembered. 

To Michael, life is absolutely about living life in the moment. 
We have no control on what is going to happen after we die. He finds it destructive to think about what he would like people to remember him for. That is an expression of ego that will not serve him.  Whether he thinks about it or not, Michael WILL be remembered! 

Season Three of "Michael Feinstein's American Songbook" premieres on PBS in April, as follows:

Show Tunes, featuring Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury, and Christine Ebersole: Friday, April 5, 9 PM

followed immediately by Let's Dance, featuring Liza Minnelli and rare clips of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire: Friday, April 5, 10 PM


McCarthy Radio (Courtesy Amber Edwards)

On the Air about the history of radio with guest appearances by violinist Joshua Bell: Friday, April 12th, 10 PM.  (Be sure to check local listings for your own PBS station.)

 Michael Feinstein  appears at Modell PAC at the Lyric May 9  benefitting the Myerbeg Center in Baltimore Buy tickets HERE

Tickets for Michael Feinstein at the Jewish Community Center in San Franciso are sold out, but do not fear! Watch the live stream at on 3/3, 7pm.



 Thank you Michael Feinstein for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,


Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!

I desire this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  
If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!
Do you have any pics?

If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.


NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
               
My next blog will be... My Exclusive interview with Nancy Opel about Hello, Dolly and her upcoming run at the Ford Theater in Washington, DC!


Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!



  
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

I'm celebrating Justin Vivian Bond, Lainie Kazan and Jenifer Lewis on Monday, March 4th, 2013 at 6:30 pm
The Bistro Awards
Hope you can make it. It’s going to be a party!
Reserve today if that date is available! Call me if any questions!
 Richard Skipper 845-365-0720



TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

 
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!

            
        





4 comments:

  1. Fantastic! We MUST keep this great music alive, as you and Michael are!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Michael is without a doubt the greatest living Gershwin authority. Thank you so much Richard for posting this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a wonderful interview, Richard--thank you so much for sharing it with us! I am hoping that Michael does write a musical, and love the idea of his opening up his vocal academy and competition to those outside the high school age--(who could ask for anything more? :) I'm in the middle of his latest book and enjoying it very much. Best wishes to you with your book--can't wait to read it, either!

    ReplyDelete
  4. A truly in-depth look at the great Michael Feinstein. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete