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Singer/pianist Michael Feinstein was both a prime motivator and a beneficiary of a renewed interest in pre-rock popular music that started in the 1980s, a trend that also found Linda Ronstadt selling millions of copies of albums of traditional pop made with conductor Nelson Riddle and that fueled the success of Harry Connick Jr. In Feinstein's case, it allowed him to establish a career as a nightclub entertainer and then move up to theaters while releasing major-label albums; his background as a musical archivist also enabled him to bring a scholar's knowledge to his performances of classic pop music.
He was born Michael Jay Feinstein on September 7, 1956, in Columbus, Ohio. His father, Edward Feinstein, was an executive in the meat business, but had been a band singer, while his mother, Mazie Feinstein, was an amateur tap dancer. Beginning to play the piano by ear at age five, Feinstein grew up fascinated by the pop music of generations preceding him and amassed a large record collection. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1976, and there began to come in contact with the people who created the music he adored. He was hired by Ira Gershwin to catalog the veteran lyricist's archives, a job he performed until Gershwin's death in 1983. (He also worked for Harry Warren in 1981-1982.) At that point, he turned to performing as a cabaret artist full-time, beginning in Los Angeles. In 1985, he released his debut album, Pure Gershwin, on Parnassus Records. A 1986 engagement at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel in New York was extended for four months and resulted in the LP Live at the Algonquin (Elektra, 1987). After releasing Remember: Michael Feinstein Sings Irving Berlin (1987), he was able to take his act to Broadway, opening Michael Feinstein in Concert: Isn't It Romantic at the Lyceum Theatre on April 19, 1988. The same year, he released his third album, also called Isn't It Romantic. During 1989, he released two thematic albums, Over There (Angel), devoted to the music of World War I, and The M.G.M. Album (Elektra).
For Elektra's Nonesuch imprint, Feinstein launched a series of "songbook" albums recorded with the participation of the veteran songwriters themselves, the first of them devoted to Burton Lane (August 1990, with a second volume in November 1992), followed by Jule Styne (October 1991), Jerry Herman (October 1993), and Hugh Martin (September 1995). Back at Elektra, Feinstein devoted an album to children, Pure Imagination (April 1992). Forever (March 1993) found him balancing contemporary material with the usual standards. He then switched labels, landing at Atlantic Records for Such Sweet Sorrow (March 1995) and Nice Work If You Can Get It: Songs by the Gershwins (February 1996) before moving to Concord Records, beginning with an album to mark the centenary of George Gershwin, Michael & George: Feinstein Sings Gershwin (September 1998).
In 1999, Feinstein lent his name to a new nightclub in New York located in the Regency Hotel, as Feinstein's at the Regency became a venue for sophisticated cabaret entertainers including its namesake. (A second Feinstein's later opened in Hollywood.) The same year, he released Big City Rhythms, fronting the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. Romance on Film/Romance on Broadway (October 2000) was a two-CD set, the first disc recorded live. It was followed by Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in May 2002. In the fall of 2002, Concord announced the formation of Feinstein's own custom subsidiary label, Feinery, intended to "present hidden gems from the American Popular Songbook." It was launched with a new album, Michael Feinstein Sings the Livingston & Evans Songbook, on October 8, 2002. Feinstein's 2003 album, Only One Life, was devoted to the songs of Jimmy Webb. In 2005, he and George Shearing teamed up for Hopeless Romantics. The Sinatra Project appeared in 2008. In 2009, Feinstein and Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson made The Power of Two for Harbinger Records. Fly Me to the Moon (September 2010) on the Duckhole label found him accompanied by jazz guitarist Joe Negri. In 2011, Feinstein followed up his 2008 homage to Sinatra with The Sinatra Project, Vol. 2: The Good Life.