Michael Feinstein, inspired by The Great American Songbook, comes to Layton

Michael Feinstein, inspired by The Great American Songbook, comes to Layton

The Great American Songbook takes center stage next week when Michael Feinstein makes a stop in Layton.

Feinstein will sing songs made popular by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Rosemary Clooney. He’ll be accompanied by a jazz trio led by his musical director, Tedd Firth.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Kenley Amphitheater, 403 N. Wasatch Drive.

“The program is going to be a combination of standards — and a few surprises — from what’s called The Great American Songbook,” Feinstein said in a recent telephone interview with the Standard-Examiner. “It’s one of the greatest contributions to American culture.”

That songbook includes American standards from the 20th century, written by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and many more.

Although he’ll have a setlist, Feinstein said the Layton concert — as with all of his shows — will be highly interactive. He’ll take requests from the audience and tell stories that give context to the songs, mixed with a lot of “humor and interaction.”

“I love the live performance experience,” Feinstein said. “For me, it’s an antidote to our mechanized, isolated world. Music is a wonderful way to bring people together.”

Feinstein says the individuality of each show is affected by the energy of the audience.

“The minute I walk on stage it becomes a collaboration,” he said. “That feedback or cross-pollination is important.”

Feinstein says it’s magnificent that these songs that were written so many years ago — songs like “All of Me,” “Love is Here to Stay,” “What’ll I Do,” and “Begin the Beguine” — are still “pertinent and resonant” today. And although some might argue that its tied to a specific time in American history, Feinstein said The Great American Songbook is “ever-evolving.”

As an example of the next potential addition to that songbook, Feinstein offers up the tune “Let It Go,” from the Disney animated feature “Frozen.”

“Personally, I think I would kill myself if I had to hear it over and over, but that’s a song I think will endure,” he said.

The singer/pianist/musical revivalist has been labeled “The Ambassador of The Great American Songbook.” With a career stretching over three decades, Feinstein has earned five Grammy Award nominations for his recordings and has scored Emmy Award nominations for his PBS-TV specials.

A Columbus, Ohio, native, Feinstein began playing piano — by ear — at the age of 5. He moved to Los Angeles at 20 and became an assistant to Ira Gershwin in the late-1970s. He has since dedicated his life to chronicling, preserving and performing the American standards.

With everything he’s done, and all the heavy-hitters he’s worked with in the entertainment business, Feinstein says there’s just one thing left on his bucket list of things he hasn’t done yet.

“Retire,” he jokes. “And actually, if nobody shows up for a concert, then it really is time to retire.”

Not that Feinstein will have that problem anytime in the foreseeable future. He’s still packing them in at shows, and he says he suspects he’ll always be involved in music in some way or another, for the rest of his life.

And although he works hard, Feinstein understands that life is all about balance and pacing. He says he never wants to feel like a racehorse; he keeps busy, but every day he finds some way to relax just a little.

“I do spend a lot of time listening to music, and cataloging my recording collection and sheet music — that’s just fun, he said. “But I also get outside and get some vitamin D.

Feinstein said he’s toyed with the idea of writing more — “to expand my musical pursuits in whatever way it manifests” — but he also confesses that he’s not ruling out any future directions that might be taken.

“I’m open to anything,” he said. “What I’ve learned is the old cliche: You make plans, and God laughs.”

And Feinstein calls it “folly” to want to be remembered as an artist. He’s only interested in following his passion.

“I’ve carried with me, for reasons I can’t explain, a desire to protect this American music — all in an attempt to preserve and introduce to audiences the songs and legacy of these songwriters,” he said.

In 2007, Feinstein founded the Great American Songbook Foundation, which, among other programs, offers the annual High School Songbook Academy for students across the country. He’s passionate about teaching ensuing generations about good music.

“On thing that comes to mind, for me, is the importance of art at this time in our world evolution,” Feinstein said. “How deeply I hope people with children will expose them to music and art, because it’s one of the fundamentals lacking in our society today, and it’s just as important as any other skill they can learn.”

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