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Queens Chronicle

Playing the classics never grows old

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Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:30 am

The Music Man is coming to Queens.

Grammy-nominated singer and pianist Michael Feinstein will be performing at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College on May 4. Feinstein serves as the artistic director for The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Ind., but more notably is known for being an archivist and performer of the Great American Songbook, a compilation of the iconic songs of the 20th century, from “Over the Rainbow” to “Singin’ in the Rain.” One of his five Grammy nominations comes from his covers of Frank Sinatra’s works.

In addition to the American Songbook, Feinstein will play compositions by brothers George and Ira Gershwin. Last fall Feinstein wrote a memoir, “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs,” about his early 20s when he worked with Ira cataloguing the Gershwins’ work. A CD of Gershwin music performed by Feinstein accompanies the book.

“They are life-affirming songs,” Feinstein said in a phone interview on Monday. “People still desire romance. I think people appreciate the eloquent way romance is expressed like in ‘Love Is Here to Stay,’ a song that is played millions of times at milestone events like weddings and anniversaries.”

He said that more than 90 percent of the songs that he plays are about amore, but exactly which numbers will be played depends on the audience.

“It really is spontaneous,” Feinstein said. “I like the variety and that a solo show gives me complete autonomy to perform anything in the moment.”

Often Feinstein plays with a band, but this time it will be just him and his piano.

He particularly likes playing “Over the Rainbow” as well as some of the comedic songs in his huge repertoire including one such number by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen, “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” sang most famously by Groucho Marx at Carnegie Hall in 1971.

The 1930s lyrics are silly and paint a picture: “Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclopedia; Lydia, the queen of tattoo; On her back is the Battle of Waterloo; Beside it the Wreck of the Hesperus, too; And proudly above waves the red, white and blue; You can learn a lot from Lydia.”

“It has resonance,” Feinstein said. “It couldn’t be more timely. More people have tattoos now than then, so in an odd way it is a contemporary song.”

Although the internet has changed how different the taste o,f say, the West Coast is when compared to the East Coast, Feinstein still changes his program accordingly.

In New York he sees a greater appreciation for Broadway songs, which only makes sense.

When he thinks of geographical tastes he thinks of the American lyricist Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to “Moon River” and “Accentuate the Positive.” Mercer grew up in Savannah, Ga., and said while growing up he didn’t relate to songs written by New York composers.

“They didn’t have currency in his environment,” Feinstein said.

But when Mercer moved to New York City his tastes changed. The songs he once hadn’t connected to he began to love.

When Feinstein performs in Birmingham, Ala., he likes to play “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” because the composer Hugh Martin wrote it when he was vacationing there, and when he’s in Indianapolis he’s more likely to play “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

More than a performer, Feinstein has received national recognition for his commitment to preserving classics such as those in the Great American Songbook and their legacy. In 2007, he founded the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative, dedicated to celebrating the music and preserving it. He also serves on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board, an organization dedicated to ensuring the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s sound recording heritage.

‘An Evening with Michael Feinstein’

When: Saturday, May 4 at 8 p.m.

Where: Kupferberg Center, Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing

Tickets: $30 to $50, (718) 793-8080 kuferbergcenter.org

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