Born Michael Jay Feinstein, September 7, 1956, in Columbus, OH; son of Edward (a sales executive for a sausage company) and Florence "Mazie" (Cohen) Feinstein. Singer and pianist, 1974--. Performed in restaurant bars in Columbus area, 1974-76; personal archivist to lyricist Ira Gershwin, Los Angeles, CA, 1977-83; assistant to composer Harry Warren, Los Angeles, 1979-81; accompanist to performers, including Liza Minnelli, Rosemary Clooney, and Rose Marie, 1980-84; singer and pianist, Le Mondrian Hotel, West Hollywood, CA, 1984-85 and 1987; York Hotel, San Francisco, CA, 1985-87; Algonquin Hotel, New York City, beginning in 1986; Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington, DC, 1987. Concert performer. Has performed numerous concerts, including the Broadway production and tour of Michael Feinstein in Concert: Isn't It Romantic, 1988-89, and Broadway production of Michael Feinstein in Concert: Piano and Voice, 1990. Has made numerous television appearances and appeared in the film Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, Cinecom, 1989. Editor, Ira Gershwin Songbook. Contributor to the Washington Post. Addresses: Home-- Los Angeles, CA. Office-- c/o Winston Simone Management, 1780 Broadway, Ste. 1201, New York, NY 10019.
Show music aficionado Michael Feinstein is acclaimed as one of today's brightest young cabaret artists. A popular pianist and singer at cabaret spots across the country, Feinstein, who has also had successful one-man Broadway shows and record albums, specializes in vintage songs of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s--works by artists such as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harry Warren, and Irving Berlin. Feinstein sings in a pleasant and clear baritone voice, interspersing his act with entertaining bits of song nostalgia gleaned from his many years as a disciple of old music. A musical "purist," Feinstein is noted for his interpretations of old material, performing both standards and not-so-familiar songs with deference to lyrics, mood, and music. "Some singers get in the way of the song," he told Gerald Clarke in Time. "I never want to be more important than what I'm singing. I'm simply the instrument through which that song is sung."
As a young boy growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Feinstein preferred the music his parents--both amateur performers--listened to and became an avid collector of old recordings. A self-taught pianist, he heard his first recording of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue when he was eleven, and as he told Debra Wise in Gentleman's Quarterly, "it created a connection that I'd never felt with music before." Feinstein became an avid Gershwin buff and after moving with his family to California in 1976, had the opportunity to meet Ira Gershwin, his idol's lyricist-brother. The aging Gershwin was immediately impressed with Feinstein's vast knowledge of Gershwin music and hired him as a musical archivist. For the next six years, Feinstein became Gershwin's assistant, cataloging the lyricist's enormous collection of recordings, sheet music, scores, and unpublished manuscripts, and the two forged a close relationship. "He used to call me 'my boy,'" Feinstein told Wise. "He had always wanted children but his wife hadn't, so I really became the son he never had."
Gershwin also encouraged Feinstein in his performing career and introduced him to other songwriters of the period, including Harry Warren, whom Feinstein later worked for as an assistant. Feinstein began performing his beloved old songs at swank Hollywood parties and became a favorite of many celebrities, including Liza Minnelli, who asked him to be her accompanist on an appearance on The Tonight Show. Feinstein soon received a seventh-month engagement at West Hollywood's Le Mondrian Hotel, followed by an engagement at the Plush Room in San Francisco's York Hotel, and received acclaim as an accomplished interpreter of old material. Music reviewer Gerald Nachman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Feinstein was "better than anyone I've heard in years" and noted that he "sings the songs straight, yet with enormous style, charm, energy, understanding--and humor." Feinstein went on to record his first album in 1985, Pure Gershwin, which sold over 40,000 copies on the independent label Parnassus Records.
In 1986 Feinstein made his New York City debut at the famed Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. New York Times critic Stephen Holden called Feinstein "a natural entertainer whose curatorial experience supplies his act with a wealth of show-business lore that he skillfully incorporates as running patter" and noted his "youthful passion that inspirits vintage show tunes ... with a joyous personal immediacy." Feinstein's appearances drew large crowds at the Oak Room and launched his second recording, Michael Feinstein Live at the Algonquin, also on Parnassus, which Clarke described as an "enchanting" album. Feinstein's popularity grew rapidly, and his admirers included President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, who invited Feinstein in 1986 for the first of what would be several White House appearances. He made numerous television appearances on music specials and in 1987 had a cameo appearance as a nightclub singer on the television movie The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. Also in 1987 he had other sold-out engagements at leading hotels, including the Washington, D.C., Ritz-Carlton, and performed with Minnelli on her fall European concert tour.
In 1988 Feinstein adapted his cabaret act to the Broadway stage, opening at the Lyceum Theatre in a one-man show entitled Michael Feinstein in Concert, which showcased songs by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Harry Warren. The first act of Feinstein's show featured a nightclub-type atmosphere, while in the second act he left his piano to explore various aspects of the historic theater as a backdrop to his music. Feinstein expressed to Holden that the most exciting aspect of playing on Broadway was "the fact that many of these songs were written for the musical stage and it puts me closer to them by being able to interpret them in that context." Mimi Kramer praised the show in the New Yorker: "That Feinstein's cabaret-style material makes the transition to theatre as gracefully as it does is a tribute to the modesty of his musicianship.... Where other crooners attempt to put their own stamp on a popular song, Feinstein lets the song speak for itself, never upstaging a selection or putting himself forward unless it is to heighten a mood or feeling." Kramer added that "Feinstein's knowledge of the genre is exhaustive" and "the program becomes a meeting place to the timeless and the charmingly dated."
Feinstein later embarked on a successful national tour of Michael Feinstein in Concert, which ran into 1989. In 1990 he returned to Broadway with a second one-man show, Michael Feinstein in Concert: Piano and Voice, which ran for a four-week engagement at the intimate Golden Theatre. Holden, noting that Feinstein's stage presence had improved since his national tour, found his new show especially appealing. Feinstein's "romantic fantasy world of old-time show business becomes an irresistible place to visit," Holden commented, adding that the show, highlighted by Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart waltzes and songs by Burton Lane, has "the feeling of a generous--almost devotional--act of love." Holden concluded: "Mr. Feinstein has found a confident, entertaining balance between the three sides of his musical personality. One side is a precocious youth showing off for the grown-ups. Another is his impersonation of a debonair male archetype from old-time Hollywood musicals who flashes glittering smiles while indulging in Liberace-like pianistic flourishes. The third, and most valuable, is an obsessive archivist dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of a cherished tradition."
by Michael E. Mueller
Michael Feinstein's Career
- Selective Works
- Pure Gershwin, Parnassus Records, 1985, Elektra, 1987.
- Michael Feinstein: Live at the Algonquin, Parnassus Records, 1986.
- Remember: Michael Feinstein Sings Irving Berlin, Elektra, 1987.
- Isn't It Romantic?, Elektra, 1988.
- Over There: Songs of War and Peace c. 1900-1920, EMI/Angel, 1989.
- The M-G-M Album, Elektra, 1989.
- Michael Feinstein Sings the Burton Lane Songbook Volume 1, Elektra, 1990.
- Gentleman's Quarterly, November 1988.
- New York, April 7, 1986; May 9, 1988; October 19, 1990.
- New Yorker, May 9, 1988.
- New York Times, January 11, 1986; April 17, 1988.
- New York Times Magazine, June 29, 1986.
- People, April 14, 1986; May 4, 1987.
- San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 1985.
- Stereo Review, December 1988; August 1989.
- Time, May 4, 1987.
- Vogue, February 1987.
- Washington Post, January 26, 1986.