Though he will remain forever linked with the sophisticated urbanity of New York and Paris, Cole Porter was born in the tiny burg of Peru, Ind. Eight years later, Hoagy Carmichael was born 130 miles away in Bloomington. If you travel from Peru to Bloomington, you’ll pass through the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel. And it is in Carmel, Ind.-appropriately located at the midpoint of Carmichael and Porter-that you’ll find the Feinstein Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook.
Actually, the Feinstein Foundation is housed within Carmel’s grand, new Center for the Performing Arts, which officially opened this past January. The facility includes the Palladium (a 1600-seat concert hall), plus a 500-seat proscenium theater and a 200-seat studio theater. It was on the Palladium stage that Michael Feinstein, who was named the Center’s Artistic Director in June 2010, taped The Sinatra Legacy, airing this month on PBS.
On that same stage, Feinstein recently partnered with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. David Bowden, to record his latest album, We Dreamed These Days (Duckhole). As is inevitably the case with Feinstein recordings, it is a classily romantic affair, made all the more lush by the orchestral backing. A boon for Feinstein fans, at least half of the album’s selections are songs he has never recorded before, including Henry Mancini’s hauntingly beautiful “Two for the Road,” Lew Spence and Jack Elliott’s “If They Ask Me,” recorded by Billy Eckstine in 1952 but rarely covered since, and Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “What Kind of Fool Am I” from the mid-’60s West End/Broadway hit The Roar of the Greasepaint-The Smell of the Crowd. Feinstein also draws from more contemporary sources, covering Neil Sedaka’s ode to pre-success happiness, “The Hungry Years,” and Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager’s “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love” (which, by half at least, technically belongs to the Great Australian Songbook). And there are two Feinstein originals: the gently romantic “With You,” featuring lyrics by Lindy Robbins, and the august, flag-waving title track, featuring words by Maya Angelou written in commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
The Feinstein Foundation, the result of the singer and pianist’s lifelong commitment to preserving and protecting the Great American Songbook, was created as both a resource for musicians and music scholars and as a celebration of the songwriters and performers who shaped and defined the music of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood. It includes thousands of rare recordings (captured on everything from wax and tin to vinyl and CD), musical films, radio transcriptions, sheet music, manuscripts and orchestrations, much of which will remain on permanent display at the Center’s Great American Songbook Museum, the first phase of which opened to the public earlier this year. Feinstein donated many, if not most, of the items from his vast personal collection. A much larger, second phase is currently in development. Feinstein also plans to create an annual Great American Songbook festival at the Center. The debut festival, scheduled for the summer of 2012, will incorporate the Foundation’s ongoing High School Great American Songbook Competition.