Saturday, August 06, 2011

Pledge-Breaking: Feinstein’s Sinatra Legacy

It might sound like hyperbole when Michael Feinstein tells viewers his concert at the Palladium in Carmel in Indiana is one of the high points of his career. However, the recently opened state-of-the-art theater (that will soon host the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, and Tony Bennett) not only booked Feinstein for a special Sinatra tribute concert, but also hired him as their artistic director, so he should be excited to play there. Recorded in the newly minted hall this May, Michael Feinstein: the Sinatra Legacy (promo here) is clearly packaged with PBS pledge-breaks in mind, but it is still a totally legit up-scale sophisticated musical evening in its own right, which airs this coming Thursday on New York’s Thirteen.

It is no secret Sinatra was a formative influence on Feinstein. Yet, rather than just re-do everything Sinatra already did so well, Feinstein takes a wider approach to the “Voice’s” canon. He does indeed tackle an iconic Sinatra staple like “Fly Me to the Moon,” but Feinstein re-arranges it back into the romantic ballad first conceived by songwriter Bart Howard under the original title “In Other Words”. Conversely, Feinstein gives the full Nelson Riddle treatment to Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” a song Sinatra only performed early in his career.

Appropriately, Feinstein also follows a Sinatra-like approach to orchestrations in general, employing a big reasonably swinging band and a considerable string section behind him. He even allows for a few brief solos. While essentially embellished melody statements, the spotlighted musicians still get enough camera time for their families to recognize them, which is cool. Feinstein even displays his piano chops a bit, starting several tunes at the ivories (before handing off to musical director Bill Elliott) and even showing off somewhat on the pure instrumental rendition of Ary Barroso’s “Brazil” (famously featured in Disney’s Saludos Amigos, clip here). In fact, it is arguably the highlight of the concert, particularly for jazz and samba listeners.

Feinstein’s adapts his performance patter rather well for the expansive hall and his knowledge of the Great American Songbook (over and beyond Sinatra’s repertoire) is justly famed. While it might be too cabaret for hardcore big band connoisseurs, it is about as jazz as PBS gets these days. A nice concert of standards that should please fans of Sinatra and Feinstein, Legacy airs this coming Thursday (8/11) in New York, but do not be shocked if someone interrupts the show to ask for money.
 (Photos: Zach Dobson)