Both a serious student of American popular music and a fine, entertaining interpreter of it, Michael Feinstein emphasized his love for the old and relatively obscure at the Greek, leavening his set with broad humor. A generation younger than Tony Bennett, the boyish, 40-ish Feinstein seems to be attracting fans of the older singer’s age — fans who, he noted, toss Depends onto the stage during his set.
Currently moving from Elektra to Atlantic records, Feinstein presented a broad overview of his repertoire, some backed by Bill Elliott’s Swing Orchestra and some by Feinstein’s own piano. Most songs were written in the ’20s through ‘ 40s — the most recent being a vintage-sounding number by Dave Grusin and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
High points included a medley of songs associated with Al Jolson, during the course of which the singer occasionally affected a slight Jolson accent while generally respecting such songs as “Swanee,””California, Here I Come” and “Back in Your Own Back Yard”; a lengthy salute to composer Harry Warren (“I Found a Million Dollar Baby,””The More I See You,””You’ll Never Know,””Lullaby of Broadway”); and the climactic sequence of songs written by George and Ira Gershwin — first a selection of rather obscure tunes, followed by several better-known songs, ostensibly prompted by audience requests.
Show was opened by so-called Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra, a group that — despite its many merits — isn’t an orchestra (no strings) and, arguably, doesn’t swing. It’s a troupe of solid musicians showcasing the leader’s own tunes and dance-band arrangements.
Elliott’s day job is as a film and TV composer-arranger and it shows in songs that come with a prefab familiarity stemming from derivativeness: He’s written a song called “Young and Foolish” that shares only its title with the standard, and a couple of his original instrumentals included snatches of Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”
Singers joined Feinstein most effectively for “Little White Lies,” announced as a tribute to Dick Haymes. Feinstein mused afterward that he loves singing with a vocal group: “It makes me nostalgic … for something I never experienced.”