Tonight, standard bearer Michael Feinstein loosely ties his concert together with Great American Songbook selections once performed at Carnegie Hall. “Our country is defined by its music,” he says.
First is an understated jazz arrangement of “From This Moment On” by Cole Porter born in 1891, the year Carnegie Hall opened. “The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)” follows with long-lined phrasing to strolling tempo. Feinstein is one of a few vocalists who can deliver a soft lyric without the slightest tremor. Curiously, he doesn’t appear as sentiment indicates.
“There was a point in Irving Berlin’s life when he lost his ability to write hit songs, about two years. In 1932, he remembered a song he’d written earlier, extracted some lyrics and released `How Much Do I Love You?’ which put him back on the map.” The vocalist bookends “Maybe It’s Because I Love You Too Much” with “How Much Do I Love You?” The two selections seem married. Almost a stage whisper, they finish feather light.
Shepherded by John Clayton’s consummately cool bass, the oldest song on the program is W.C. Handy’s 1914 “St. Louis Woman.” Feinstein delivers it without hums, ahs, yeahs- just the meat of the lyric. Otherwise still, he pats his thigh. Tedd Firth’s strong, precise piano attack adds immeasurably.
Feinstein accompanies himself on a gently swaying “You’re Getting’ to Be a Habit With Me” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin). Piano is stroked, bass bowed. Unlike the rest of the concert, he only glances at the audience once, “…you’ve got me in your clutches…” A small smile emerges. It’s always a treat to hear the artist this way – sincere, simple with pristine piano.
In the mid-thirties “we’re inching up chronologically,” Fred E. Ahlert/Joe Young wrote, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” a hit for Fats Waller. We hear an up-tempo version with start/stop phrasing. Then, two songs by J. Fred Coots who wrote “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Love Letters in the Sand:” “You Go to My Head” (lyrics-Haven Gillespie) is veritably exhaled from atop a stool. “For All We Know (We May Never Meet Again)” (lyric-Sam M. Lewis) arrives like a late, last dance.
“In the 1960s, The American Songbook was still happening. Everyone watched television variety shows, music was homogeneous,” Feinstein notes wistfully. “The Second Time Around” (Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen), though associated with Frank Sinatra, was introduced by Bing Crosby. This version starts a fox trot, moves into hip-activated swing, and returns airbrushed.
Feinstein’s favorite singer is Fred Astaire. “George Gershwin was inspired by Fred. They met early on when George was plugging songs and Fred (and his sister) Adele were in vaudeville. The show Lady Be Good was everyone’s first Broadway outing. A medley of George and Ira Gershwin songs arranged by Alan Broadbent with no fluent connections acts as denouement.
“Just a few years later, George Gershwin was gone at age 38. Fred was almost as desolate as George’s brother Ira. He pulled himself together and went to pay his respects. Ira and Fred looked at each other and burst into tears. It was the first time Ira could cry about his loss. For the rest of his life, Fred sang a love song they wrote for Shall We Dance – in tribute to George.” The song, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” arrives sad rather than sweetly bouncy as we see it in the film.
Feinstein thanks his audience for supporting music, reiterates his belief in the evolving Great American Songbook, and closes with “For Once in My Life.” (Orlando Murden/Ron Miller). Mark McClean excels.
Musicianship is mouth-wateringly fine.
Photo Courtesy of the Concert
All quotes are Michael Feinstein
Michael Feinstein at Feinstein’s at Vitello FOR Live at Carnegie Hall
Available to stream: Live with Carnegie Hall | Carnegie Hall
Tedd Firth- MD/Piano
Mark McLean- Percussion