Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 7 September 1956, Columbus OH) Pianist, cabaret singer, archivist of the golden age of songwriting. Largely self-taught, a reluctant piano student until an uncle gave him hundreds of old 78s, he began collecting records and sheet music, moved to Los Angeles at age 20 and within months had met June Levant (Oscar's widow), who introduced him to Lenore and Ira Gershwin. He was appointed Ira's archivist and executor, and also worked for Burton Lane and Jule Styne. He was involved in the discovery of a warehouse full of priceless music manuscript in Secaucus NJ in 1982 (go here). After Ira's death in 1985 he quarrelled with Lenore, but they made up; meanwhile he began to perform. His technique was shaky; playing Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue with the L.A. Philharmonic he hired a coach to help him with it.

His ego gets in the way; his book My Life In Rhythm And Rhyme '95 is full of himself, yet perhaps his ego is shaky too; Jeremy Kingston, reviewing a London gig in The Times, wrote that he looks 'as Kafka might have looked if he had smiled at the cameraman and worn a red tie'. Hosting a documentary, Soundies: A Musical History (from Liberation Entertainment; the date on the DVD is January 2007) he seemed terribly ill at ease, as though the enterprise was underscripted. But Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times on 1 September 2008 that 'As he has stepped out from behind the piano, he has also developed into a polished storyteller and celebrity mimic. He is one of the last all-around traditional entertainers in a postvaudeville tradition that stretches from Al Jolson to Billy Joel.' Feinstein does his best and pleases his fans, telling stories about dummy lyrics songwriters have used in the writing; it turns out that among Oscar Hammerstein's favourite things were 'cute little babies who fall out of swings'.

Eleven albums on Elektra included Isn't It Romantic with orchestra arranged by Johnny Mandel, and songbooks of Gershwin, Berlin, Lane, Styne, Jerry Herman, Hugh Martin (with Martin: b 11 August 1914, Birmingham AL. With Ralph Blane Martin wrote songs for shows and films, e.g. Meet Me In St Louis for Judy Garland). Further Feinstein albums were Such Sweet Sorrow and Nice Work If You Can Get It on Atlantic; he also sang in Ian Whitcomb's musical Lotus Land on Audiophile.

He has a Manhattan supper club named after him, and his 24th album was The Sinatra Project 2008 on Concord, trying to recapture the magic of Sinatra's albums of the mid-1950s with arrangements by Ben Elliott, and help from guests such as China Forbes (of the lounge band Pink Martini), and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Many of the songs are obscurities rather than the familiar Sinatra standards; he has a growing archive of sound recordings and memorabilia which will eventually end up in a performing arts center in Carmel IN, to be completed in 2010, which will include the Feinstein Foundation for the Education and Preservation of the Great American Songbook. 

Feinstein does about 150 dates a year, mostly in larger venues nowadays. His occasional songwriting has grown into composing musical shows: The Day They Saved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is described as a family musical; The Gold Room is an intimate show about the poor little rich girl Barbara Hutton; and another plan is a show based on The Thomas Crown Affair.