STANDARD TIME WITH MICHAEL FEINSTEIN at Carnegie Hall is as good as it gets
It’s easy to forget that Michael Feinstein is a great artist. It’s easy to forget because he does so many other things that come to mind. His work as a musicologist documenting, rescuing, restoring and preserving the catalog of The Great American Songbook has been impressive, all these years, so that comes to mind. His presence as an impresario at nightclubs bearing his name across the country is something he is known for. His stature as a world-class musician immediately comes to mind when someone hears his name. All of these things and more, Michael Feinstein does, and does it well. It is therefore easy to forget that he is a great artist.
Until he’s in front of you, on a stage, entertaining you…that’s when you find yourself shaking your head, holding your breath and thinking about how Michael Feinstein is a great artist. In fact, Michael Feinstein is as good a concert performer as anyone who has come before him, worked alongside him, or will come after him, and that includes Frank Sinatra, the subject of Mr. Feinstein’s program at Carnegie Hall, a concert aptly titled ULTIMATE SINATRA title.
For ninety absolutely sublime minutes on Wednesday night, Michael Feinstein filled Zankel Hall with musical excellence through a carefully curated presentation of some of Frank Sinatra’s most timeless hits, some of his most enduring performances. .. but not like a myna, for Michael Feinstein has his own style. And Michael Feinstein has Tedd Firth. Thus, the arrangements have been handled in such a way as to allow Mr. Feinstein to maintain the heritage, the tradition, of Sinatra, but also to infuse his own interpretations into the famous compositions. Naturally, when an artist is dealing with someone to whom fans have dedicated their devotion, it can be a delicate balancing act, knowing when to stray from the already adored path and when to push the envelope. Music historian with wisdom and artist with instincts, Michael Feinstein and his band (with Firth on piano, David Finck on bass and Mark McLean on drums, each sensational…as a band, the living end) n made no wrong move with his musical presentation. Performing songs like ‘The One I Love Belongs To Someone Else’, ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’ and ‘I Focus On You’, Mr. Feinstein demonstrated what made him stand out , as a singer, all those years – an enviable ability with rhythm and nuance, a knowledge of when to swing and when to act, and vocal prowess that continues to amaze, to this day.
The power ratings are more than impressive: they are perfect. The breath control is more than indisputable: it is unfathomable. And the action moments are spectacular. There’s this thing, this Michael Feinstein thing, that’s been around for many years that no one else has done, and there’s even a question in this writer’s mind whether anyone else could even do it. There is this place of tenderness that Mr. Feinstein goes to during certain stories that are almost impossible to describe in terms of vocal technique, but which (for years) has created a visual in the mind of this writer . Imagine, if you will, that Michael Feinstein’s throat is the trunk of a tree, and that there is, inside this trunk, a hole where there is a bird’s nest. In this bird’s nest is the smallest, sweetest, most delicate of winged creatures, singing softly and softly in the twilight. This is Michael Feinstein at his most introspective and poignant performances. And, then, BAM – he hits you with a Sinatra big band number and fills the air of the arena with one of those big, mind-blowing notes, and you find yourself wondering where it all came from, how he does, and how it looks so easy. It is truly a marvel to behold.
Add to all that the fact that Michael Feinstein is funny. He’s so smart, he knows the history of music so well, the composers, Mr. Sinatra, and he discusses it with you like he’s telling a story around the dining table. There are no notes. There is no misstep. There are no long lectures. There are only pleasant and informative stories…and jokes…and impressions (yes, impressions). Feinstein is funny, and he’s funny, and he’s jovial, and he jokes. He’s everything you could want in an evening of entertainment, and he’s more because he takes a few chances to sit down at the piano and play while singing (a rare lyric applied to the heartbreaking “Where Do You Start” relieved the composition of all sorrows, finally), and he so obviously appreciates the artistry of his fellow musicians, who are simply the best a person could ever hope to be with on stage. The solos were insane, especially from Mr. Firth, who is a treasure to the industry, and no mistake.
Wednesday night’s Feinstein/Sinatra/Carnegie concert is one of the finest evenings this writer has had this season because, a fan of Feinstein since the 80s, his catalogue, his canon, his work, have become like threads in the fabric of my life. His music has become like muscle fibers that are there, doing the work, supporting daily activities, but not really taken advantage of, to the point of taking them for granted. And while I thoroughly enjoyed Michael’s tribute show to Judy Garland last December, that night of Sinatra songs reignited in this longtime fan a renewed devotion to the man, a reinvigorated interest in his work, and I can definitely say that I won’t miss a unique Michael Feinstein show in the future. He is simply magnificent, simply the best, and his version of “One For My Baby” has been at the top of my list of favorites for the past two days… ahead of Mr. Sinatra’s. In a night of outstanding performances like a superb “I’ll Be Around”, and a lush “The Second Time Around” and an epic “Frank Sinatra Medley”, this was a real highlight, and all thanks to Michael Feinstein, one of the real great artists.
Find the great shows and concerts to see on the Carnegie Hall website HERE.
THIS is Michael Feinstein’s website.
Fadi Kheir’s photos courtesy of Carnegie Hall