NPR Music

Support Public RadioLogin

From the Top

With Strings Attached: Michael Feinstein Sings Gershwin

July 28, 2011 Watch what happens when the celebrated cabaret artist sings Gershwin with a string quartet.

Recently, From the Top had the pleasure of welcoming Michael Feinstein, the ambassador of the great American songbook, to our show in Carmel, Ind.

We played at the Palladium, at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, where Michael serves as artistic director. It's a beautiful facility with great acoustics, and it's also home to the Michael Feinstein Foundation and the Great American Songbook Archive and Museum. Here the public can view rare collection items and learn more about the "Soundtrack of America."

On stage, Michael and I joined 15-year-old harpist Katherine Kapelsohn and the teenaged members of Quartet Toujours to perform "Love Walked In" by George Gershwin, in an arrangement by Lee Blaske.

I asked Michael about his repertoire choice and he recalled that in one of his many conversations with Ira Gershwin, the great lyricist had felt that of all his brother George's music, "Love Walked In" is the most like Brahms, and therefore ideal for From the Top.

I had heard both the original cast recording, from the 1930s, and a very operatic version by Leontyne Price. But what makes this such a remarkable performance is that Michael found the perfect balance between the opulently beautiful sound of an opera singer and the more casual jazz phrasing of the original.

Of course, what really made the whole experience special was the shift in genres. Here we were, playing music that was mostly a new style for the kids, in a potentially intimidating experience working with a superstar. But in fact, it was one of the most collegial and uplifting collaborations we've ever had.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor