Premiering Wednesday, October 6 on PBS, the three-part series MICHAEL FEINSTEIN’S AMERICAN SONGBOOK, produced and directed by Amber Edwards of Hudson West Productions, embarks on a dynamic road trip through the glorious history of American song by the acclaimed musician and five-time Grammy®-nominated vocalist. Viewers accompany Feinstein on-stage and backstage, hear him interpret great standards, listen in on personal stories about the songwriters and entertainers he’s known and worked with over three decades, and join him on his quest to find and preserve rare treasures of classic American music.
“When I first moved to Los Angeles,” Feinstein says in the show, “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.”
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN’S AMERICAN SONGBOOK chronicles Feinstein’s lifelong mission to keep the Great American Songbook alive, as he preserves and passes along the lyrics and melodies of songwriters like George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart, all while performing more than 150 shows a year across the country. The series follows the meticulous musician as he rummages though cluttered basements and dusty attics, sifts through piles in cluttered storage lockers, and unearths obscure items in flea markets. Simultaneously, Feinstein digs deep into the artistry of performers like Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Ethel Waters, and Margaret Whiting, illuminating what makes them so iconic and timeless. In all aspects of his life, Feinstein is a historical sleuth, obsessively seeking out and saving priceless musical rarities (alternate lyrics, long-lost arrangements, and unreleased recordings) from destruction.
“Michael has been called the Indiana Jones of popular music – he’s been collecting since he was five years old,” says producer/director Edwards. “But for him it’s not about amassing and hoarding objects; it’s all part of his mission to keep this music alive for future generations.”
In addition to footage that documents Feinstein’s fabulous but exhausting life on the road, MICHAEL FEINSTEIN’S AMERICAN SONGBOOK uses prized archival audio and film footage to tell its story. The clips, narrated and contextualized by Feinstein, reveal the social and historical forces behind the music, which helped to shape the style, attitude and self-image of America for more than a century. Filled with generous portions of live performance past and present, the series offers both an intimate portrait of a unique entertainer and a history of 20th century popular culture.
“AMERICAN SONGBOOK reflects PBS’s unique approach to presenting the arts,” said PBS President Paula A. Kerger. “It illuminates the creative process and what happens before the curtain rises, straight from a leading artist of our time. It is also an historical documentary in the best sense – contemplating and contextualizing culture, and showing the impact the arts have on our lives and how art benefits from public engagement.”
· 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.
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN’S AMERICAN SONGBOOK is part of PBS’s expanded effort to bring the arts and the creative process to as wide an audience as possible — on-air, online and in person.