Ol’ Blue Eyes was a heck of a singer, and his hits like “My Way” and “Fly Me to the Moon” are among the easiest of easy listening.
But for musician Michael Feinstein, Frank Sinatra appreciation is much more complicated than that. It’s a science, really.
“For him it was always about the lyrics first,” said Feinstein during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “It was telling the story. Each one of these songs to me is a little play-ette.”
Feinstein, who is famous not only for his own musical skills but also for his efforts at preserving classic pop songs from the 1920s through the 1950s, will share the science of Sinatra when he joins the Wichita Symphony Orchestra for a pops concert on Saturday at the Century II Concert Hall.
Feinstein, a seasoned performer, conductor and music historian, will perform his show “The Sinatra Project” backed by Wichita’s orchestra, something he said he is happy about.
“I certainly enjoy the experience of working with a large group of fine musicians,” Feinstein said. “I hear it’s a really good orchestra in Wichita, and that makes all the difference, of course.”
Feinstein, 58, has been around musicians since a young age. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, and his parents realized by the time their son was 5 that he could play piano by ear.
After high school, he played in a few piano bars before heading to Los Angeles, where he met famous Broadway lyricist Ira Gershwin. He was hired to catalog Gershwin’s record collection, and Feinstein’s obsession with “The Great American Songbook” – the title given to pop songs written from the 1920s to 1950s, including songs from Broadway musicals – was born.
He went on to become a recording artist and a Broadway star in his own right, and he has two Emmy nominations and five Grammy nominations on his resume. He also works part of the year as the principal pops conductor of Pasadena Pops Orchestra and will soon begin conducting an orchestra in Palm Beach, Fla., as well.
He has starred in a popular PBS documentary series called “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook,” and has a weekly NPR show called “Song Travels.”
Feinstein’s career also has included a slew of Sinatra study. One of his Grammy nominations was in 2009 for his CD “The Sinatra Project.” And his TV special, “Michael Feinstein: The Sinatra Legacy,” earned an Emmy nomination.
The stage show will appeal to both hard-core and casual Sinatra fans, Feinstein said. It includes his own interpretations of many of Sinatra’s recordings.
“It’s a program that is a cross section of what I think is the best of Frank Sinatra’s music,” Feinstein said. “Sinatra, of course, had a very very long career – 60 years – and that is impossible to completely capture. But my goal was to put together a program that would reflect the way that he fundamentally changed American popular music by reinventing the accompaniment for American popular song in the 1950s.”
Sinatra, Feinstein said, created a swing sound that became the standard sound most people today associate with the classic pop songs from the era. Feinstein’s performance will include much of that swing arrangement, he said, but it also will explore the lush string sounds Sinatra used in his ballads.
During the show, Feinstein also will share with the audience stories and trivia about Sinatra and his career, he said.
“I also give a lot of what I hope will be entertaining marginalia about is life to put his music in a context that will be interesting for people that might not know about Sinatra,” he said. “It’s kind of a tall order, but I hope it will appeal to die-hard Sinatra fans as well as neophytes.”
If you go
Michael Feinstein: ‘The Sinatra Project’
What: The famous musician and composer will perform his Sinatra-focused show with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27
Where: Century II Concert Hall
Tickets: $43-$85, http://wichitasymphony.org, 316-267-7658