Michael Feinstein has become an iconic singer of the modern era. He has entertained audiences and world leaders alike with his jazz standards. Recently he began working with Liza Minnelli to produce a unique stage show that celebrates her mother, Judy Garland's, 100th birthday.
Mr. Feinstein took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions and give us some insight into his creative process, the future of jazz, and the production of this one-of-a-kind show.
Why do you feel the classics still resonate today?
One of the things I love about the music that I primarily sing is that the songs transcend the time in which they were created. They truly are timeless in the sense that they still have incredible power and energy in what they convey to audiences. I always compare them to the timelessness of William Shakespeare or Beethoven or Michelangelo in that people don't experience any of those things and say they're old.
They still resonate with the heart and they have a contemporary sensibility because certain fundamental emotions are forever. The songs that I sing are so amazingly crafted that they're malleable and they can be performed and sung and may any different ways. And that's one of the reasons they survive because they're just adaptable.
And that's one of the fun things about it. Every time I sing one of these songs, it feels fresh to me. And I also know that there are maybe people in the audience who've never heard these songs before. So I'm mindful of trying to present them in their best suit. If you will.
Did Judy Garland influence you more when you were a kid or as an adult?
Judy Garland, what an amazing person; incredible performer. As a child, like most of my generation, anyway, I first became aware of Judy Garland in connection with the 'Wizard of Oz.' That movie was shown every year as an annual event on television. And we would always go to my aunt and uncle's house and watch it there because they had a color television. But the true art of Judy Garland was introduced to me later in my life, when I became aware of her many recordings and other films that she made at MGM, and she had two distinct careers. One was the 28 feature films she made at MGM from 1937 until she was unceremoniously fired by them in 1950.
Then there was her adult concert career from 1951 to 1969. In that period, she performed over 1100 concerts and made classic record albums. And that's such a rich period of American culture and also music. And so the show that I'm doing is a true celebration of the extraordinary joy she brought to her and the pathos and the sadness that's conveyed through the way she sang ballots. It's a multimedia celebration with home movies supplied by the family, a rare recording of hers singing acapella. And I accompany her on the piano that I actually discovered of a song no one had ever heard her sing before. So it's a, a rich program."
In your opinion, has jazz fallen by the wayside in contemporary music, or is it just reserved for a more distinguished crowd?
I think jazz falls into the same category as American popular song, the classic American popular song in that it will always survive, it will always have an audience and perhaps it's more specialized today, but it's the kind of music that people discover when they're a little bit older and then it becomes a permanent part of what they listen to.
Are there any modern songwriters who you feel could be as prolific as Mr. Gershwin?
Well, uh, I believe that Bob Dylan is incredibly prolific. There are many other songwriters who have a work ethic that produces a lot of material. Diane Warren, I'm told, writes every single day, The songwriter Michel Legrand composed, well over 200 film scores as he composed every day. So there are probably songwriters who wrote more than Gerwin, but will their songs be heard in a hundred years as widely as George Gershwins? That I don't know the answer to.
Do you think the best songs are written when the world is in turmoil or when it's more at peace?
Music always reflects the time in which it is created. Uh, if you look at the songs of world war II, the were lots of songs of patriotism that were very, um, what's the word --- jingoistic. Things like, 'Johnny get your gun, get your gun, get your gun.' All these songs about fighting for what's right. And those songs have not lived as long as the love songs that were written in that time.
For example, 'White Christmas' was written at a time when the world was just entering the second world war and that song has lived, and the patriotic songs, uh, have not worn well, even though the sentiment is there. They were very much of their time. I think that there is a certain kind of inspiration that comes out of turmoil. A lot of songs written during the American depression have become lasting standards.
Things like "As Time Goes By.' That was later featured in the movie 'Casablanca' and that sort of thing. So I think that good songs can be written in any time, but perhaps there's more, uh, passion conveyed when there are problems in the world,
Does music constantly play in my subconscious?
Absolutely. Yes. Music is always playing in my brain and that doesn't bother me because sometimes it's music. I know, and sometimes it's new music. That's how I, I come up with the idea for a tune. My friend, George Firth, who died a number of years ago was a brilliant librettist. He wrote the book for the Sondheim shows 'Merrily, We Roll Along,' and company. And he once said that anything that you're whistling or humming in your brain is a subconscious window to what one is really thinking about or what they're really feeling.
So if he ever heard anybody humming or whistling, he would say, what are you singing? What are you humming? He wanted to know the title of the song, because that was his armchair psychoanalysis of what that person was, was going through.
What will the audiences be treated to at the Scottsdale show?
Well, it's a centennial tribute to Judy Garland. And as I mentioned previously, it's multimedia with photographs that have never been seen before, this incredible home recording of Judy Garland, which I found in a house that she once lived in behind a fake wall.
It's just a weird story. Uh, so I'll be accompanying her in this song. So it's a world premiere of Judy Garland singing something that nobody's ever heard before. And I also sing a couple of things that were written for her that never saw the light of day.
And then a lot of familiar things. It's a celebration of the best of her MGM years, and then the concert years, the iconic Carnegie Hall show, and it's a very immersive experience, both, visually and emotionally. The audience reaction has been, spectacular, and I'm very grateful. The enormity of trying to pay tribute to someone with a career, as large as Judy Garland's certainly was not easy, but I feel like we've nailed it.
I had a team of people who helped to put it together, notably, Judy Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli, who executive produced the show and was very much influential in helping to shape what it's about. It celebrates the incredible art that she gave all of us. It doesn't delve into the tragedy because that's the tabloid stuff. But the reason people remember her at all is because of the talent. And so that's what I celebrate.
Show & Venue details:
Valley audience members can join Feinstein for this celebration of Judy Garland at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. 2nd St., Scottsdale, Arizona. There will be two concerts at 3 pm and 7 pm on Sunday, March 20, 2022. Tickets start at $79. For information click here or visit or call 480-499-TKTS (8587).
All guests age 12 and older must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test, taken within 72 hours of the performance date, along with photo ID, to attend performances. As an alternative, guests may provide proof of full vaccination. Masks are highly encouraged to protect artists, staff and patrons. For full health and safety protocols click here.