Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College opened its 2015-16 season with a concert by “The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook,” singer/pianist Michael Feinstein celebrating Frank Sinatra’s centenniel. Guest reviewer Mari S. Gold
was there and reports:
Backed by a pianist, bass player and percussionist, Michael Feinstein had the audience at his Sinatra Centennial Celebration at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts eating out of his hand long before he finished his first number.
Feinstein, lithe and ageless at 59, played it smart by singing songs popularized by the Chairman of the Board as Feinstein, not as Sinatra sang them. He recounted meeting Sinatra when playing a party at Chasen’s in Hollywood hosted by the Sinatras and attended by the likes of Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor and other Hollywood luminaries. In hopes of having Sinatra notice him, Feinstein played obscure Sinatra songs which, it turned out, the Chairman didn’t like. However, he noticed Feinstein, talked with him and invited him for dinner. When a young, nervous Feinstein arrived at the home of Sammy Davis, Jr. and was asked if he’d like a drink, he blurted, “Do you have any white wine?” Davis, ever on his game, responded “Baby, in this house we got all colors of wine.”
Feinstein swung through How About You and That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp; gave a soulful, soft rendition of What Kind of Fool Am I and, backed by screen stills of a mostly young Sinatra, sang a medley including All or Nothing at All; Angel Eyes; I’ve Got the World on a String and other Sinatra-associated numbers.
Mid-performance, Feinstein, a five-time Grammy® nominee, talked about the Great American Songbook Foundation he founded in 2007 to preserve and perpetuate the music of masters including Jerome Kern, Sammy Kahn, Jule Styne, Richard Rogers, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and others. He introduced the Foundation’s Youth Ambassador, Annie Yokum, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. Yokum’s rendition of What Did I Have That I Don’t Have Now, with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, was knock-out and Feinstein’s prediction of a Broadway future for her seems entirely likely.
Feinstein, who sipped water and what appeared to be tea during the performance, reappeared in a suit resplendent with rhinestone buttons, more Las Vegas than his usual somber, though always elegant, attire to sing Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things, explaining that Porter was Sinatra’s favorite songwriter. After plugs for his website, his Facebook page and the Foundation, he gave an “encore” number of New York, New York that sent the crowd out very happy, many singing along.
Accompanying Feinstein was heavy- hitting talent including Ted Firth on piano; Sean Smith on bass and Mark McLean on drums. Firth has been musical director/accompanist for Barbara Cook, Elaine Page, Brian Stokes Mitchell and other well-known singers; has appeared at Carnegie Hall and performed at the White House. A major force in the international jazz scene for over twenty-five years, Smith has his own group which received the CMA/ASCP Award for Adventurous Performing in 2015; he also composes. McLean began his career in Toronto as a jazz drummer and has worked with a broad array of artists including Billy Joel, Wynton Marsalis and pop icon George Mitchell.
For more information on the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College, please visit BrooklynCenter.org.