Standards to Love: The Michael Feinstein Edition


Today is Michael Feinstein’s birthday (see post here), and because it’s such an important occasion, I am breaking precedent and doing a double post. I had thought I could cram everything into one post, but as I was writing the first one, I realized I needed more than one to give homage where it was due. 

I couldn’t mark this day without sharing with you, dear readers, a few of my favorite songs sung by Mr. Feinstein. There are a host from which to chose, but I have narrowed it down to a handful. It is my hope that you enjoy them as much as I do. Throughout the whole of my life, Michael Feinstein’s music has played, but within the last five years, it has been particularly dear to my heart. The songs I’ve selected are ones I associate especially with Mr. Feinstein. 

How Do You Keep the Music Playing?

This song composed by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand, the dynamic team which brought us such greats as The Summer Knows (see post here), was written for the film Best Friends. Alan and Marilyn Bergman are among my favorite lyricists because they do what I think poets should, convey the depth and width and breadth of an emotion in deceptively simple words allowing for the hearer or reader to relate on an intrinsic level. I have heard this song sung by many people, but Michael’s is my favorite. The arrangement and orchestration coupled with his innate sensitivity to the lyrics combine to create an incredibly poignant experience. It was hard for me to select recording I loved the most. I went with the cut from the album Michael did with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, We Dreamed These Dreams

A Man and His Dream

Before I owned Fly Me to the Moon, the album Michael did in collaboration with the superb guitarist Joe Negri, I had never heard this song. That is another reason I love Michael Feinstein. Since he has spent so much time chronicling and cataloging the vast assortment of songs written in the Great American Songbook, he has found these gems that are rarely recorded and little known. Johnny Monaco wrote the music; you might have heard of his other song, You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It), which Judy Garland forever immortalized in Broadway Melody of 1938. The lyrics were by Johnny Burke, who was Bing Crosby’s favorite lyricists; he even affectionately dubbed Burke The Irish Poet. The song was written for Crosby and sung in the 1939 film The Star Maker. Burke’s poetic nature is on full display with A Man and His Dream, reminding me of the way Pablo Neruda conveys romance. There is a delicacy about the word choice that transforms the familiar to the fantastical. I think Michael says it best:

He preferred a more subtle way of expressing romance and never resorted to mush or cliche phrases.

One Love In My Life

I love the story of this song. Somewhere in a studio in Hollywood in 1932, Harry Warren wrote a several sections of music to be used in the background of the film 42nd Street. (That’s how I imagine it, though I’m not sure if it’s precisely how it happened.) The music was used, and the melody seemingly forgotten. But, that’s not the case. Michael Feinstein never forgets. In 1980, he asked Warren about that particular portion of music. Harry Warren told Michael that this portion of music was the first he’d ever heard performed by a Hollywood studio orchestra. It changed his life. (Which we should all be thankful for as Harry Warren made a huge contribution to musical scores during his career.) However, there were no lyrics to accompany this beautiful melody. Enter lyricist Murray Grand. The Warren family requested posthumously that he write words to go with Harry’s gorgeous melody and this is the conclusion. Shakespeare wrote: To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, Is wasteful and ridiculous excess. With One Love In My Life, Murray Grand pays homage to the stunning simplicity of the melody with equally unadorned words; these words need no gilding for they are refined gold itself. From Fly Me to the Moon, too, this is the song’s first recording. 

The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye

Since we’re speaking of songs which Michael Feinstein premiered, I have to include The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye. It seems that Frank Sinatra approached the Bergmans to specifically write a song for him to sing in concert. This was later in Ole Blue Eye’s career. Sinatra never sang the song, though Alan Bergman says when he played The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye for the singer, Frank was moved to tears by how strongly he related to the lyrics. This song haunts you, much in the way that Carole King’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? does. There’s a universality about it, as though every person in the world has asked these questions and has experienced these same emotions at least once in his or her life. The music is by John Williams. You can find this one on Michael’s tribute album to Frank Sinatra: The Sinatra Project.

How Long Will It Last?

This song can also be found on The Sinatra Project. All the songs on that album correlate to Sinatra’s career in some manner, but Michael Feinstein was deliberate in searching out the songs he would sing to honor the icon. Rather than re-record Sinatra’s notable classics, Michael dug deeper and selected songs that either had personal meaning to Sinatra or revealed another aspect of him that had not been seen previously. With How Long Will It Last?, Michael introduced Sinatra fans to a song which Sinatra had recorded with Xavier Cugat (one of the coolest names) during his Columbia days. The recording was never released. This arrangement is wonderful; I particularly love the rhythm. Pink Martini accompanies Michael in this duet. It’s marvelous. 

Long Ago and Far Away

I have loved this Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin song since I first heard it sung by Dick Haymes. The lyrics are superb. However, it wasn’t until I read Michael Feinstein’s Nice Work If You Can Get It, that I developed a new appreciation for it. Ira Gershwin was very excited to work with Jerome Kern, who was a composer that his brother George revered. Perhaps that is why Ira had such difficulty writing the lyric for this song. I imagine he wanted to make both Jerome Kern as well as his deceased brother proud. He wrote and re-wrote lyrics for this one several times. In this particular version, found on Feinstein’s Romance on Film, we are afforded a special treat. Michael sings an extra verse that was not included in the released copy, but one which Ira particularly loved. 

They Can’t Take That Away From Me

This last offering is not from any album. I discovered it quite by accident while looking for other Michael Feinstein songs on Youtube. However, it demands inclusion for two reasons. First, it is a duet with Rosemary Clooney, who was very close to Michael and toured with him on several occasions. Secondly, I love how well the lyrics translate into the evident love shared between these two incomparable singers. (It also happens to be my parents’ song.)

If you have never attended a concert by Michael Feinstein, I urge you strongly to do so. Even if this sort of music is not within your customary milieu, his performances are worthwhile for the knowledge he joyfully shares concerning this period in American musical history. I have seen him in concert twice in recent years. (While we lived in NYC, my parents went to see him numerous times, but now residing in the country outside of Nashville, it’s a rather rare opportunity.) Each time, I sat in my seat at the Schermerhorn moved to tears because I completely related to the love he has for this style of music. That’s something special indeed.

Have any of you, dear readers, had such an experience with a musician or performer you love?