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Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook Debuts This Fall on PBS

Michael Feinstein's American Songbook Debuts This Fall on PBS

Thompson on Hollywood

Classics crooner Michael Feinstein will make legions of music lovers happy this fall when he premieres a three-part series exploring the history of American popular music. The American Songbook will air October 6, 13 and 20 at 8 PM on PBS. This is my idea of heaven.

The preservationist and pianist will perform many of the love songs, pop standards and show tunes made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Ethel Waters, and Margaret Whiting, as well as showing clips of classic soundtracks and dance numbers. He’ll also dig into the great songwriters George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart.

Produced and directed by Amber Edwards of Hudson West Productions, the show will take a road trip through the history of American song as viewers accompany Feinstein on-stage and behind-the-scenes as he interprets the standards, talks to songwriters and entertainers, and pursues his quest to find and preserve rare American music. The series follows him as he rifles though basements, attics and flea markets in search of musical treasure.

In the show, Feinstein says:

“When I first moved to Los Angeles, I discovered that movie studios would throw away archives, music publishers would get rid of old arrangements, manuscripts would be discarded, and complete orchestrations for shows would be tossed out.  Our musical heritage was literally disappearing because people didn’t understand it was valuable to save it.”

Episode Synopses

Episode One, Putting On the Tailfins, focuses on the 1950s and 1960s, when the Great American Songbook competed with new forms like rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm & blues.  As Feinstein crisscrosses the country performing with big bands, symphony orchestras and jazz combos, viewers learn how iconic singers like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney kept the Songbook alive by reinventing pop standards of the 1930s and 1940s.
Episode Two, Best Band in the Land, examines how popular songs provided emotional solace and patriotic inspiration during World War II.  While preparing an original patriotic song, Michael weaves in the history of 1940s big bands, USO shows, V-disks, war bond rallies, and the powerful role popular music played in boosting morale.
Episode Three, A New Step Every Day, explores the fast and furious 1920s and 1930s, when jazz was hot, credit was loose, and illegal booze flowed freely in underground speakeasies.  Between performances, Feinstein illustrates the impact of talking pictures, the dawn of radio, and the fledgling recording industry. Additionally, it introduces viewers to other collectors and musicians who keep the spirit of the Jazz Age alive today.


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Mitchell Hirsch

Although I love Michael Feinstein, I was disappointed with his program devoted to the ongs of WWII. It was almost entirely devoted to his usual Broadway Musical material, and, I fell, had little to do with what the young soilders were really listening to. Of course there were USO shows, which the men did appreciate. However, this was not the music the “got thier juices flowing”, so to speak. These were men/boys of 17-25 years old. They respected Irving Berlin, for instance, but considered his ancient WWI songs as quaint. These were kids who danced to “swing”. Hardly any song presented would I call real swing. Where were the Andrew Sisters? Where was “American Patrol” by Glenn Miller. No Benny Goodman?
Another thing, he went heavily into the black contribution to this music, which of course cannot be left out. But, here he is, a Jew, and didn’t mention at all the Klezmer influence in early swing. Ken Burns did the same thing is his doc on Jazz.
I have always considered this music “Jewish Jazz” due to it’s obvious Jewish influence.
Anyway, that’s all.


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