Since becoming conductor of the Pasadena POPS four years ago, Michael Feinstein has brought his penchant for glamorous classics to the orchestra’s summer concert series at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens. This Saturday, he’ll be presenting the latest edition of his most popular POPS show yet, when he sings a cornucopia of classic American standards as the soloist in “Sinatra Project: Volume 2.”
Building off his Grammy-nominated “Sinatra Project” CD, Feinstein brings together Ol’ Blue Eyes’ biggest hits with songs that most casual fans have never heard before in a mix that only the Ambassador of the Great American Songbook can deliver.
“Some of the songs this time include ‘Three Coins in the Fountain,’ an Oscar-winning song that’s rarely sung, and I have the original symphonic charts from the movie,” says Feinstein. “We’ll be doing songs grouped together by his favorite writers, and a Sinatra medley at the end with a lot of his standards. It’s a good combination of his swing numbers and beautiful ballads for the gorgeous strings section of the orchestra.”
Intriguingly, considering the amount of focus he puts on performing Sinatra songs, the famed crooner actually isn’t his favorite singer. Rather, Feinstein favors another performer who is more famous for his dancing skills.
“My favorite male singer is Fred Astaire and favorite female singer is Rosemary Clooney,” says Feinstein. “Astaire had more songs written for him than any performer. Gershwin, Mercer, Kern, Lesser and many more wrote songs specifically for him, and many became standards because he was a great interpreter of the wishes of the writers and gave a deep interpretation that seemed natural and even casual.”
On the other hand, Feinstein believes that the magic of Sinatra lies in the way “he reinvented the way we listen to American popular songs.” By that, Feinstein is referring to the fact that Sinatra put swing arrangements to American popular standards in the 1950s, creating the modern style in which those songs are interpreted.
“Sinatra was one of the greatest interpreters of lyrics and told a story with each song,” Feinstein explains. “He was the first singer of his generation to do that, to focus in so deeply on the lyrics that it changed the way we hear these songs.”
With that duly noted, Feinstein says that he doesn’t believe in matching Sinatra’s vocal phrasings, since he feels that a direct attempt to copy his sound would be boring for both himself and the audience. Instead, he will attempt “to evoke the style and personality that’s central to the music, since it’s our fresh interpretations of songs people have heard many times that is a major reason we’ve been successful.”
Looking ahead to the remainder of the summer series, Feinstein will serve mainly as conductor of “Cole Porter Night” on Aug. 20 and “A Salute to Warner Bros.” on Sept. 10. While he might sing a couple of songs on each evening’s program, he notes that the Porter show will feature Catherine Russell and Nick Ziobro as the event’s soloists.
The Porter show will present several arrangements of the composer’s works that have either not been heard publicly ever, “or at least not in 70 years.” Among his discoveries for the show were orchestral charts created by famed conductor Nelson Riddle which have never been played before in Los Angeles, a new Cole Porter overture by fellow POPS conductor Larry Blank and the original 1934 overture of from the Broadway musical version of “Anything Goes.”
Yet it was the Warner Bros. tribute show that provided Feinstein with his most intriguing research possibilities. Traveling to the studio’s archive at USC, he received permission to copy several original Warner Bros. arrangements.
“Many have never been heard outside of the movies in which they’ve been featured before, and I’ll be including material from every decade of the Warner Bros. story,” says Feinstein. “There’ll be Busby Berkeley numbers, the theme from ‘A Summer Place,’ and the John Williams theme from the original Christopher Reeve ‘Superman’ movie. We’ll run the gamut of many decades of Warner Bros., plus have dancers for that show, great singers, and recreate songs from their films adapted from Broadway including ‘The Music Man,’ ‘Camelot’ and the film overture of ‘Gypsy’ created for the Warner Bros. film. Many people only know the Broadway overture.”
With all that creativity bursting forth, Feinstein has found himself deeply appreciative of both the POPS management as well as their devoted fans. He noted that his greatest pleasure of working with the orchestra is that the devotees are willing to follow demanding creative twists to standards.
“It’s been wonderful because the support of the community and audience is so exciting,” says Feinstein. “The orchestra is incredibly gifted, all brilliant musicians. Many have worked in Hollywood and play all different types of music. They appreciate playing music that’s difficult for them. It’s demanding and one of the reasons we’re successful is that audiences realize this is the only place they’ll be able to hear these versions of these songs. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
The Pasadena POPS presents “Sinatra Project Volume 2” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 311 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. Tickets are $10 to $132. Call (626) 793-7172 or visit pasadenasymphony-pops.com.