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Pianist and singer Michael Feinstein

Pianist and singer Michael Feinstein. His repertoire is American popular song and he is a collector of vintage recordings and musical memorabilia. In the fall he plans to release a collection of radio duets by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, on his new record label Feinery. Feinstein released a new CD with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Feinstein and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Concord).



TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Michael Feinstein talks about his time as assistant to
Ira Gershwin and other aspects of his career as pianist and singer

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

During the last few years of Ira Gershwin's life, his assistant was my guest,
Michael Feinstein. Feinstein couldn't have asked for a better break. He was
a young performer and ardent music fan. Through his association with
Gershwin, Feinstein learned the stories behind many songs and was introduced
to other songwriters he got to know. Over the years, he's put together an
incredible collection of rare recordings that he found in songwriters' homes,
Hollywood studio vaults and Hollywood-area flea markets. Today he's going to
play some of those recordings for us.

But first, we're going to hear one of his own performances. Feinstein has
become one of the best-known interpreters of American popular song. He's
recorded many CDs and has won three Grammys. His latest CD is called "Michael
Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra." Here's a track from it, a
song Fred Astaire sang in the film "The Band Wagon."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MICHAEL FEINSTEIN (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) I'll go my way by
myself. This is the end of romance. I'll go my way by myself. Love is only
a dance. I'll try to apply myself and teach my heart how to sing. I'll go my
way by myself, like a bird on the wing. I'll face the unknown. I'll build a
world of my own. No one knows better than I myself. I'm by myself, alone.

GROSS: That's Michael Feinstein from his new CD, "Michael Feinstein with the
the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra."

Michael Feinstein, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

GROSS: Now over the years, you've gotten to know several great composers who
are still alive, or were still alive, when you were younger, and you have some
rare home recordings that some of them have made, and you've brought a couple
of those with you today. In a moment, we're going to hear Harry Warren
singing one of his most famous songs, but before we do that, where does Harry
Warren fit into your rankings of the great songwriters?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Harry Warren, to me, is at the top of the list, certainly if
not greater than Irving Berlin, equal to Irving Berlin. I know there are
people probably collectively raising their eyebrows, but a lot of people don't
know the scope of Harry's achievement. Even though he primarily wrote only
music, his contribution to American popular song is mighty. He actually had
more hits on the "Hit Parade" than even Irving Berlin, and Berlin was actually
jealous of Harry, and they had a feud going for quite some time. It was
during the Second World War that when Harry heard that the Allies bombed
Germany, he turned to a friend and said, `Ha! They bombed the wrong Berlin.'

GROSS: What are some of your favorite and well-known Harry Warren songs?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: "I'll String Along With You," one of my absolute favorites;
"September in the Rain." I love a lot of his ballads, because he was
influenced by Puccini. I was very close to Harry, and he had a lot of records
of Puccini. We would frequently listen to Puccini operas, and he was very
proud of this manuscript page in Puccini's hand from "La Boheme." So it is
those beautiful Italian ballads that make me most think of him.

GROSS: He wrote some of the songs for the Busby Berkeley films of the '30s,
and one of his most famous songs is "Lullaby of Broadway." You have a home
recording of Harry Warren singing this song. How did you get access to this?
Where did you find it?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I met Harry Warren through Ira Gershwin. Harry and Ira had
last collaborated in 1948 for "The Barkleys of Broadway," an MGM film that was
starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And I had begged Ira to introduce me
to Harry, and once I met Harry, we became very close. I spent, for three
years, my mornings at Harry Warren's and afternoons at Ira Gershwin's. And
Harry had these stacks and stacks of recordings, most of which had never been
catalogued, and I found these RCA pre-grooved home recordings that he had made
in the '30s, and then had the great joy of listening to them and transcribing
the music on them, and this was one of these home recordings he made, just for
his own fun.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is Harry Warren, recorded at home,
doing his song "Lullaby of Broadway."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HARRY WARREN: (Singing) Come on along and listen to the lullaby of
Broadway, the hidee-hi and boop-a-doo, the lullaby of Broadway. The rumble of
a subway train, the rattle of the taxi, the daffodils who entertain at
Angelo's and Maxie's. When the Broadway baby says good night, it's early in
the morning. Manhattan babies don't sleep tight until the dawn. Good night,
baby, good night, milkman's on his way. Sleep tight, baby, sleep tight, let's
call it a day. Hey, come on along and listen to the lullaby of Broadway.

GROSS: That's songwriter Harry Warren, recorded at home in 1935. My guest is
Michael Feinstein, who's brought with him some terrific rare recordings like
this one.

And this is a real treat to hear, because it's not like Harry Warren performed
a lot. He wasn't like George Gershwin, who would perform at the drop of a

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Very true. Harry was a guy who was very shy, and didn't play
the piano very well. He used to say `Berlin plays with one finger, Kern plays
with two and I play with three.' But he was not ebullient as a performer. You
can here there's kind of a monotone quality to that performance, but I still
love it.

GROSS: Now you also brought with you a home recording that you got, you say,
from Ira Gershwin's closet...


GROSS: ...back when you were working with Ira Gershwin, and this is a
recording of Harold Arlen singing at a party. Tell us about this recording.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, this is very interesting, Terry, because when I first
started working for Ira Gershwin, he actually hired me to catalogue his
phonograph records, and he used to call me his `demon discographer,' and I
found a number of these home recordings that were not labeled, that were in
Ira's closet, and these were things that had been made on the machine that he
once had, and there was a whole set of recordings from a party he had around
1938, that included Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Milton Ager, who wrote "Happy
Days Are Here Again," Doc McGonigle(ph), who wrote comedy sketches for
Beatrice Lillie, Harold's wife, Anya Arlen, who was a `Goldwyn Girl,' Leonore

And I found this one recording which was all beat up, but still playable, of a
song sung by Harold, but it's a song I had never heard of, and it wasn't
documented anywhere. When I saw Yip Harburg a couple months after discovering
it, I said, `Yip, did you write this song?' And I sang him a couple lines.
He said, `No, no, that had to be written by Ted Koehler. Those rhymes,' he
said, `Oh, those awful rhymes--"Don't know which way to lean, betwixt and
between"--that had to be Ted Koehler.' He was very pejorative. Nevertheless,
I think it's a delightful song.

GROSS: And who's singing the Fats Waller-ish kind of backup vocal here?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, you mean that sort of `Who got you sit...'

GROSS: Exactly.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: That's Doc McGonigle, and then you'll hear Yip Harburg, who
says, `Take that bridge back out of your mouth, boy,' and Ira's the one who
saying, `What's all this talk about a wall and talk about a fence?' So
they're all just hanging around, just having a good time, and nettling Harold,
who barely manages to get through this song.

GROSS: So this is Harold Arlen singing a song he wrote the music for, and
he's at the piano, too?


GROSS: OK. And this is--What year is this?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: 1938.


(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HAROLD ARLEN: (Singing) You've got me sitting on the fence, don't know
which way to lean. But, Doc, you got me sitting on the fence, I'm betwixt and
between. Like Humpty Dumpty, I'll soon be slipping off that wall, and if I
got to go, before I go, I want to know which way to fall. The little things
you do, you do because you know my hands are tied. Now that I'm running after
you, I hope you're satisfied. Why do you keep me in suspense? How would you
like to be in love with someone and be sitting on a fence like me? You got me
sitting on the fence.

Mr. DOC McGONIGLE: Who's got you sitting on that fence?

Mr. ARLEN: (Singing) Don't know which way to lean.

Mr. McGONIGLE: Oh, you know which way to lean, all right, you rascal.

Unidentified Man #1: Lean that way.

Mr. ARLEN: (Singing) You got me sitting on the fence.

Unidentified Man #1: What fence?

Mr. ARLEN: (Singing) I'm betwixt and between.

Mr. McGONIGLE: You're between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. McGONIGLE: What's that you say?

Mr. ARLEN: (Singing) slipping off the wall.

Mr. IRA GERSHWIN: Wait, what's all this talk about a wall, all this talk
about a fence? ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. ARLEN: (Singing) If I got to go, before I go I want to know...

GROSS: That's Harold Arlen singing and at the piano, as recorded in 1938, on
a home recording. My guest is Michael Feinstein, who found this recording in
Ira Gershwin's closet. Feinstein worked with Ira Gershwin for many years.
And Feinstein has a new recording himself. This one is called "Michael
Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra."

Michael Feinstein, how did you start working with lyricist Ira Gershwin? What
a terribly lucky break to have.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: It was wonderful to work with Ira, because I had idolized his
work for so long. I met him through June Levant less than a year after I
moved to Los Angeles. June...

GROSS: This is Oscar Levant's wife?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Exactly. She was Oscar's widow, and I met her after I found a
series of recordings that were home recordings of Oscar Levant's in a used
record shop in Hollywood. I got June Levant's phone number through a lady I
was working with at a piano store. I had taken a job as a piano salesman,
thinking that I needed to get, quote, "a real job" because I didn't think that
I could really make a living playing the piano and singing, and June and I
became friends. I met her because of these recordings, and she was very, very
sweet, because she recognized something in me that was unusual for a kid of 20
years old, and that was an enthusiasm and a great knowledge of not only Oscar
Levant's music but the Gershwins and all the other contemporary songwriters of
that time.

And so she created an introduction to Ira, and so in July of 1977, there I
was, sitting in Ira Gershwin's living room, and he asked me to start working
for him, taking care of his memorabilia.

GROSS: What did that mean? What exactly were your responsibilities?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: My first responsibility was cataloguing the records in the
phonograph room. Ira was in a deep depression, because his closest friend,
Eddie Carter, had just died. Eddie was Raymond Chandler's literary agent, and
when he retired, he started working with Ira as a secretary just for fun, just
to hang around with Ira. And Eddie died of cancer and Ira was just in this
funk, and his wife, Leonore, was trying to find some way to bring Ira out of
it, and when they met me, Mrs. Gershwin realized that I was somebody who would
probably bring new blood and new life to Ira, and she pulled me aside and
said, `I want you to do whatever you want in this house.' She said, `I'm
going to open up every closet and drawer, and you can find whatever you want,
create your own duties. But most of all,' she said, `I want you to keep Ira

And so I was doing this cataloguing work, but I was doing it alongside Ira, so
I could engage him, and so if I'd play an old record he'd respond to it, or
I'd find an lyric sheet or find a manuscript of an unpublished Gershwin song
to show to him, and it really brought him back, and it was the most
extraordinary experience, because I was actually being paid to spend time with
this person who was one of my idols.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Feinstein. He has a new CD called "Michael
Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra." They'll do an American tour
next month. We'll talk more after our break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Michael Feinstein, one of today's most popular
interpreters of American popular song. He also collects rare and archival
recordings of American popular song. He's brought some of them with him.
When we left off, we were talking about the years he spent working as Ira
Gershwin's assistant.

How old was he when you started working with him?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: He was 80 years old, and he was very reclusive. He was
housebound at that time and eventually he became bedroom bound. He got out of
bed but he never left the bedroom. And he was alert and sharp and bright and
funny and very much a father or a grandfather figure to me. He was very, very
sweet, very shy. He was so shy that he rarely went to parties. He absolutely
retreated into this little shell. And after his brother, George, died in 1937
at the age of 38, he never quite recovered from that.

GROSS: You obviously wanted to hear all of his more obscure songs and obscure
home recordings. Did he want to hear that, too?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: He did because he loved the memories that they brought back to
him. Some of his favorite songs were not necessarily songs that were hits.
For example, "Loved Walked In" is a song that he didn't like very much. "My
Cousin In Milwaukee" is a song that he loved, and that's a song that was
hardly recorded at all.

GROSS: You want to recite a little or sing a little of the lyric for that?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) I've got a cousin in Milwaukee, she's got a voice so
squawky that makes your heart get kind of gawky nine times out of 10.
(Speaking) Now let's see, the bridge. (Singing) When she sings hot, you can't
be solemn, sends the shivers up and down your spinal column. When she sings
blue, the men shout what stuff, that baby is hot stuff.

(Speaking) So the bridge, the whole idea of the bridge is that when she sings
hot, people had the reaction of hearing the blues, and when she'd sing the
blues, it sounded like a hot song. So that's why she was all mixed up.

GROSS: So what do you think of the song? Did you share his enthusiasm for

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I think it's an adorable song. I like it musically. It's a
bit of an antique lyrically because it's a certain kind of song that was
written for a Polish comedienne named Lyda Roberti, and the reason Ira used
the word `hot' is because she was famous for saying the word `hot' as `khot.'
So she'd sing, (Singing) `I've got a cousin in Milwaukee, when he sing khot,
they'--so the whole thing was putting the `kh' sound. So it was really
written for a specific performer. But Ira loved it, so there we are.

GROSS: Now when you talked to Ira Gershwin about songs, would he give you
little lessons in lyric writing?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, yes. Yes. He not only would instruct me as to different
sorts of rhymes, as to what was appropriate and what was not, but also how to
interpret a song, as he did with "Someone To Watch Over Me," as it nettled him
that most singers would sing in the bridge of "Someone To Watch Over Me,"
(Singing) `Although he may not be the man some girls think of as handsome, to
my heart he carries the key,' (speaking) and the rhyme is `he may not be the
mansome girls think of handsome,' and he was always teaching me to look for
those inner rhymes and those little special twists that sometimes singers

GROSS: I want to get to another recording that you've brought with you. This
is another home recording. It's a home recording of a very obscure Ira
Gershwin song, a song I think you helped rediscover, called "Ask Me Again."
What's the story behind this song?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, well, this was one of Ira's favorite unpublished Gershwin
songs. There was a cache of unknown Gershwin songs that Ira had been holding
back all those years since his brother had died in 1937, and he didn't know
what to do with them. They were like little diamonds, and he wanted to
release them to the public, but he wanted them to be released in a way that
they would get attention, that they would mean something, because he knew that
if he just published them, that they would fall by the wayside. So he was
always hoping to find a project to put these songs into, something that would
make them important. And he never found the project that did that. So in
1983, the year of his death, I had taken this one song, "Ask Me Again," which
was originally written around 1930 for "Girl Crazy," and asked Rosemary
Clooney if she would sing it while I recorded it because I was hoping that if
Ira heard Rosemary sing it, then he would agree to allow us to perform it and
to release it to the public.

I recorded Rosemary doing it. She did a marvelous, marvelous interpretation
of it just off the cuff. And Ira listened to it and he said, `My God, it
sounds like I wrote that song 50 years ago just waiting for Rosemary to sing
it.' And I said, `Can she sing it?' He said, `Oh, yes,' and he allowed it to
be introduced for the first time a couple of months after that home recording
was made.

GROSS: Well, let's listen to this 1983 home recording that you made with you
at the piano, Rosemary Clooney singing, the recording you made to convince Ira
Gershwin to let you introduce the song. Here it is.

(Soundbite of home recording)

(Soundbite of piano music)

Ms. ROSEMARY CLOONEY: (Singing) Ask me again who's the one I've begun to
adore. Ask me again who's the partner my heart clamors for, who is the who
has me tied in a bow knot so that I know not just where I'm at. Who is it
makes my friends all find that I've a one-track heart and mind? Oh, ask me
again, let me tell how I fell from the stars. One look and then couldn't
govern the love in my heart. Who is it I looked high and low for, whom will I
go for my whole life through? Please ask me again, let me shout to the world
it's you.

(Soundbite of piano music)

GROSS: That's Rosemary Clooney with my guest, Michael Feinstein, at the
piano, a home recording made in 1983, a song by George and Ira Gershwin. A
really beautiful song, and how wonderful to hear Rosemary Clooney. You must
be so sorry about losing her. I know you were very close.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: She was like my second mother. She called me her sixth child,
and I've been waking up every day thinking of her. I just loved her so much,
and when I hear her voice, it just takes me into a special place in my heart.
There was something so special, she was so gifted. And we're so lucky that
she was around in our time.

GROSS: Michael Feinstein will be back in the second half of the show. He has
a new recording called "Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra." They'll do a national tour in August.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, we hear a famous movie actress singing before her part was
dubbed by a real singer. We continue our conversation with Michael Feinstein
and listen to some of his unusual recordings from Hollywood vaults.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Michael Feinstein. He
has a new recording with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and will do an
American tour with them in August. Feinstein not only performs American
popular song, he collects home recordings of singers and songwriters, as well
as rare recordings from Hollywood vaults and lost radio broadcasts. He's
brought several recordings from his collection to play for us. Here's one he
got from Rosemary Clooney featuring her singing on her 24th birthday as the
orchestra takes her by surprise.

(Soundbite of vintage recording)

Ms. ROSEMARY CLOONEY: (Singing) Sweet Lelani, heavenly flower, nature
fashioned roses kissed with dew. And then she placed them in a bower. It was
the start of you. Sweet Lelani.

(Musicians playing "Happy Birthday")

Ms. CLOONEY: Ah! Come on. (Laughs) Oh, what a good trick.

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney recorded on her 24th birthday. It's one of the
recordings Michael Feinstein brought with him. He was very close to Rosemary

Did you get to know her through Ira Gershwin? Because if I remember
correctly, she was Ira Gershwin's next-door neighbor, and then ended up moving
into his house after he died? Do I have that right?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Close. She was Ira's next-door neighbor, yes. She actually,
in 1953, with her then-husband Jose Ferrer, bought a house that had been
occupied by Ira and George in 1936 and 1937. When George Gershwin died, Ira
moved out of the house that Rosemary later bought, and in 1940, he bought the
house that was next door to the house he had originally occupied. So Ira
bought a house in 1940 at 1021 Roxbury, and in 1953, Rosemary and Joe Ferrer
bought the house at 1019 Roxbury.

GROSS: And is that how you got to know her?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yes. We actually met through kitty cats, because Rosemary
had some cats and Lee and Ira had one cat that they had actually stolen from
Polly Bergen, who lived another two doors down. It's a long story. And
Polly--when I mentioned that, Polly said, `Yeah, that bitch. She stole my
cat,' referring to Leonore. But in any event, Lee was very concerned that
Rosemary wasn't taking proper care of her cat because the cat would always
come to the Gershwin house to eat the shrimp that Leonore left out. Now what
cat is going to go home and eat its own food when Mrs. Gershwin was leaving
shrimp? But in any event, I went next door and it was because of their cat
that I met Rosemary. And she invited me in and I stayed for a long time.

GROSS: Well, one of the rare recordings you've brought with you is an outtake
of Rosemary Clooney on Bob Hope's radio show recorded in April of 1954. Well,
say something about this before we hear it. Introduce it for us.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, 1954 was a year when magnetic tape recording had become
standard usage for radio. Before 1950, everything was done live, or most
thing were done live. And by that period in the 1950s, everybody was
recording the shows and then editing later, which I guess loss some
spontaneity but also allowed good stuff to be captured. In this instance, Bob
was asking Rosemary about her husband, Jose Ferrer, and asking about the
relationship. They'd only been married about a year. And Rosemary gave a
response that, in those days, was not appropriate to use on the airwaves.

GROSS: A little naughty for the time.


GROSS: Let's hear it, and this is Bob Hope asking Rosemary Clooney about her
husband, Jose Ferrer.

(Soundbite from "Bob Hope Radio Show")

Mr. BOB HOPE: Rosemary, you are one of the world's greatest exponents of
low-brow, bebop and jazz. Joe is one of the world's finest Shakespearean
actors and is considered very high-brow. How do you two get along

Ms. CLOONEY: Intellectually.

Mr. HOPE: Yeah.

Ms. CLOONEY: We meet somewhere around the middle.

(Soundbite of laughter; applause)

Ms. CLOONEY: I mean, we're both kind of middle-brow...

Mr. HOPE: Yeah, I know.

Ms. CLOONEY: know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOPE: That's mighty fine country through there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOPE: Oh, I love that.

Ms. CLOONEY: Oh, what sheers on this show, huh?

Mr. HOPE: Oh, I love that.

Ms. CLOONEY: My goodness. Oh.

Mr. HOPE: Oh, I wish we could use that, too.

GROSS: That's Rosemary Clooney, an outtake from her appearance on the "Bob
Hope Radio Show" in 1954. My guest Michael Feinstein brought with him several
rare recordings and outtakes. He has a new CD of his own called "Michael
Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra."

Now, you know, in addition to performing, you're also a song collector, and
the great thing is you put the two together by performing, in addition to
popular songs, some very rare songs. And you have scoured flea markets and
homes and basements and movie studios as well. How have you gotten access to
movie studios looking for outtakes and forgotten recordings?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: My initial access came because of Ira Gershwin. Ira wrote me
a letter of introduction that allowed me to get into the RKO studios in the
late '70s. And it was possible because of him, quite frequently, because in
the early days, I was looking for Gershwin materials. But after I became
somewhat known, a lot of studio librarians and archivists would let me in
because they knew that my intentions were pure.

GROSS: As opposed to?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, sometimes, there are problems with pilfering from
studios. Frequently, things are stolen and things disappear and there are
certain items that are still in the hands of private collectors that have been
lifted from the studios. In some instances, this is a good thing because
studios have thrown things away and they have been recovered because
collectors have gathered them, but there also has been the underhanded side of
that. For example, there's an outtake from "A Star Is Born," the Judy Garland
version, that still is in the hands of a private collector. And the guy
claims he doesn't have it, but I believe that he does. And it's just stuck
there and nobody can get it.

GROSS: What are some of your greatest finds from going through movie studio

Mr. FEINSTEIN: One of the most exciting things for me was going to RKO in
those days when they were just getting ready to throw out boxes of these
discs. And I found Fred Astaire outtakes, Frank Sinatra outtakes that were
just used as part of the "Sinatra in Hollywood" box that came out. A Crosby
outtake, a complete version of Fred Astaire singing "Change Partners," which
differs drastically from the way it was done in the film "Carefree." I found
amazing Bing Crosby things that have turned up through the years. Three of
his lost "Woodbury Show" broadcasts that are legendary with The Boswell
Sisters, and that's one of my most exciting finds 'cause Crosby's one of my
favorite singers.

GROSS: Well, one of the things that you brought with you is a recording of
Jean Harlow singing. Now Jean Harlow was not famous for her singing with good
reason. And, in fact, she didn't even sing in the final version of the film.
She was dubbed. So what's the story behind this vocal that you have?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, this was a vocal recorded for a 1935 MGM film called
"Reckless," and we're able to play it through the courtesy of MGM. The song
was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, even though you wouldn't
know that if you weren't told that. And Harlow, like all the MGM stars of
that period, were expected to sing. And she absolutely could not sing, but
they still insisted on it. So she recorded a vocal, if you want to call it
that--I mean, it's so bad--of just a couple of lines of this thing. And they
did several takes, and they realized that they just were not going to be able
to use it. And she was replaced in the final film by Shirley Ross. So this
is the unused Harlow vocal for "Reckless."

(Soundbite of vocal from "Reckless")

Ms. JEAN HARLOW (Actress): (Singing) I've made my mind up that here I'll wind
up. I'll take what's coming to me.

GROSS: That's Jean Harlow's unused vocal for the 1935 film "Reckless."
Michael Feinstein, you've also brought with you the dubbed version--the
version Shirley Ross made for her. And shall we give that one a spin?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yes. And hearing it you'd never know--seeing it, rather, on
screen, you'd never know that wasn't Jean Harlow singing.

(Soundbite of vocal from "Reckless")

Ms. SHIRLEY ROSS (Singer): (Singing) I've made my mind up that here I'll wind
up. I'll take what's coming to me.

GROSS: Now do you think that recording we've just heard of Shirley Ross
dubbing for Jean Harlow--do you think that that's Shirley Ross's regular
singing voice, or did she try to assume a voice that she thought Harlow might
have if Harlow could only sing?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: From other recordings I've heard by Shirley Ross, I think
that the latter is true. I think that she tried to approximate what Jean
would sound like if she had pipes.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Feinstein. He has a new CD called "Michael
Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra." We'll talk more and listen
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Michael Feinstein, one of today's more popular
interpreters of American popular song. He also collects rare and archival
recordings of American popular song; he's brought some of them with him.

Now another session you've brought with you, one of your finds, is a Judy
Garland outtake from "Annie Get Your Gun." She was cast in the movie before
Betty Hutton got the part. Why didn't she stay with the film?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: As I understand it, she was simply too ill, and that she was
not showing up on time on the set, and they finally had to fire her. She was
devastated at that, but clearly she was in no condition to work and she was
holding up the production. The budget was going haywire because she had
become so unreliable because she just wasn't well. And it's no secret that
the studio was working her too hard, and they asked her to come back to work
at that point much too soon, and she had begged them to take more time off
before that. And she simply couldn't do it. She did record a set of
soundtracks for the whole film, and she's in varying vocal shape through those
sessions. On some of them, she sounds terrible; on some of them, she sounds

This thing that I brought is the unedited session where Judy keeps missing a
line. And she sounds like she's in decent shape that day, but she's supposed
to sing, (singing) `There's no business like show business if you tell me it's
so,' and she keeps singing, (singing) `Like no business I know.' And she
misses it once, then she laughs and she says to Roger Edens, who did the
layout, and her mentor--she said, `Oh, I'm sorry, Roger.' And finally she
gets it, and from that unedited session that you're going to hear, they did
splice together what was the finished vocal version.

GROSS: OK, well, let's hear it. This is Judy Garland, an outtake from "Annie
Get Your Gun," the film.

(Soundbite of "Annie Get Your Gun" recording session)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) The opening when your heart beats like a drum,
the closing when the customers won't come.

Ms. JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) There's no business...

(Speaking) Oh, I'm sorry. Gee, I couldn't see it. All right. Keep the same
tempo. Keep the same tempo. (Vocalizes melody)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) When the customers won't come.

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) There's no business like show business, like no

(Speaking) Oh! I'm sorry!

(Soundbite of Garland and man laughing)

Ms. GARLAND: I'm sorry, Roger.

Unidentified Man #3: Oh, 'cause it's the music.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) When the customers won't come.

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) There's no business like show business if you tell me
it's so.

Group of Men: (Singing) Traveling through the country is so thrilling.
Standing out in front of opening night. Smiling as you watch the benches
filling and see your billing up there in lights.

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) There's no people like show people. They smile when
they are low.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Even with the turkey that you know will

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) You may be stranded out in the cold.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Still you wouldn't change it for a sack of

Ms. GARLAND and Group of Men: (Singing) Let's go on with the show. Let's go
on with the show.

GROSS: That was Judy Garland singing with Frank Morgan, Howard Keel and
Keenan Wynn. It's one of the rare recordings that my guest, Michael
Feinstein, has brought with him. Michael Feinstein has a new CD in which he
sings accompanied by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

You know, we've been talking about some of the outtakes and home recordings
you've collected over the years and some of the composers who you got to know
over the years. You've actually recorded with a couple of those composers.
One of those recordings was an album of duets you made with Hugh Martin, who,
along with Ralph Blaine, wrote "The Trolley Song," "Have Yourself a Merry
Little Christmas," "The Boy Next Door" and some other very great, but, you
know, lesser-known songs. How did you get to know Hugh Martin?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I met Hugh Martin in the '80s. I had written him a letter
because I was recording an obscure song of his that he had written with
Marshall Behrer(ph) called "Wasn't It Romantic?" And I asked if he would
record the accompaniment for me to sing it. And he was very reclusive at that
point, and he said, `I will make a recording of the accompaniment for you, but
I'm not seeing anybody right now.' And he did record it, and I sent him a
tape of the finished version, and he sent me a note saying that he cried when
he heard it. And he invited me over, and I met him and got to know him. And
he has become one of my treasured friends. He's now, I believe, 87 years old
and extraordinarily facile and still writing songs.

GROSS: I'm a big fan of his. Why don't we listen to a duet that you recorded
with him of one of his lesser-known songs called "I Never Felt Better"? Tell
me about this song and why you chose it to be on the CD.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: "I Never Felt Better" is, I'd say, trademark Hugh Martin.
The wonderful harmonics of the song, the optimism and the spirit in this
number, is quintessential Hugh. It's a song that was written for a movie
called "Athena," which is not a good film but has a great score, and I really
wanted to sing the song because I was hoping and am hoping that it will lead
people to that score, which is undeservedly obscure.

GROSS: OK. Well, here's Michael Feinstein with Hugh Martin from an album of
duets that they did of songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) The days I go out shopping, I buy each thing I see.
I charge 'em, then I feel I got 'em free. So where will I receive my mail?
Jail. But I never felt better, so I'm cruising full sail.

Mr. HUGH MARTIN: (Singing) How's your appetite?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) Tremendous.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) How's your energy?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) Stupendous.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) Are you strong?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) So strong I have to watch my step.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) How's your eyes?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) Bright as a penny.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) And your sleep?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) I don't need any, but I'm always on the ball and
full of pep.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) How's your heart?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) It must be tickin', 'cause I feel alive and

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) How's your brain?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) Well, it's insane, but kind of quick.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) How's your love life?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) I got plenty.

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) How's your vision?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) Twenty-twenty. Must confess that I'm depressingly
unsick. If I'm to cross the ocean, better learn to float...

GROSS: That's Michael Feinstein with Hugh Martin at the piano and doing some
duetting there, from the CD Michael Feinstein "Sings the Hugh Martin
Songbook." Michael Feinstein also has a new CD called "Michael Feinstein with
the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra."

Did Hugh Martin tell you any songwriting stories that stuck with you and
changed the way you hear one of his songs?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, he told me stories about a lot of songwriters, because
Hugh did vocal arrangements on Broadway for Jerome Kern, for Vernon Duke. He
did "Cabin in the Sky" for Richard Rodgers, for Irving Berlin, for Arthur
Schwartz and for Johnny Green. So he was telling me stories about all these
guys. One of the things that stuck with me was that, of all these writers he
worked with--including Kern, who was notoriously difficult; Richard Rodgers,
who is also known famously as being difficult--he said the only person who was
truly unkind to him was Irving Berlin.

And I've never forgotten that because Hugh was writing these very advanced
vocal arrangements that were advancing the whole sound of Broadway. He was
writing sort of these swing things that were much more complex harmonically
than was currently heard on Broadway. Berlin was very paranoid about people
stealing from him. He was always worried that people were going to try and
take something away from him, which I find extraordinary, but something that
was characteristic of him throughout his career, corroborated by other

But Hugh was doing vocal arrangements for Berlin for "Louisiana Purchase," and
Berlin was constantly riding Hugh and and concerned that he was going to make
too many changes, that it was going to deviate from the structure of Berlin's
song to the point that he would have to give Hugh some sort of credit for his
interpolations in it. And Hugh said that even though Rodgers was known as
being difficult, he was a pussycat with Hugh. And Kern--Berlin was the one
who had this sort of paranoia that he could not overcome.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Feinstein. He has a new CD called "Michael
Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Michael Feinstein, one of today's most popular
interpreters of American popular song. He also collects rare and archival
recordings of American popular song. He's brought some of them with him.
When we left off, we were talking about Irving Berlin.

Did you ever meet Irving Berlin yourself?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I did not meet Berlin. I used to speak to him on the phone
when he called Ira Gershwin. And later, at the urging of Liza Minnelli, I
called Berlin when my Irving Berlin album came out, and it was something I, to
this day, regret having done because it was very embarrassing. Berlin was
very hard-of-hearing, and nobody ever called Irving Berlin; he always called
you. But Liza, being wonderful and persuasive, said, `Michael, here,' and she
dialed the number and handed me the phone. I heard a man say, `Hello?'

And I said, `I'd like to speak to Mr. Berlin.'

`Who's calling?'

I said, `My name is Michael Feinstein.'

He said, `Who?'

`Michael Feinstein.'


`Michael Feinstein.'

`Feinst--what does he want with Mr. Berlin?'--as if he's not Berlin speaking,
you know.

And I said, `Well, I was told by his lawyer that he loves my new album.'


`I was told by his lawyer that'--I was repeating myself again.

`I can't hear you.' So finally I got it out and he heard me, he said, `Oh,
for Christ's sake, forget about him,' and he hung up on me.

(Soundbite of Gross laughing)

Mr. FEINSTEIN: So that was my conversation with Irving Berlin.

GROSS: Did it make you feel any different about recording his songs?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: No, it didn't. And as a matter of fact, Rosemary Clooney
told me that when she did an album of Berlin songs--and she was quite close to
him--she called him up afterwards and said, `Well, Irving, what do you think?'
He said, `Well, there were one or two things that I really liked on there.'

GROSS: So everybody thought he was kind of cranky, huh?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Burton Lane said that opening night of
"Finian's Rainbow," which was--it just smelled of success, it was such a huge
hit--during intermission, Berlin came racing up the aisle and ran smack into
Burton Lane, whose songs he published early in Burton's career, and he looked
at him and said, `Uh--uh--uh--hi, Burton. Where's Yip?' looking for Yip
Harburg, the lyricist, and then ran away. And Burton said, `Can you believe
that he couldn't pay me a compliment? He just couldn't find it in his skin to
say, "It's wonderful."'

GROSS: Yeah.

Michael Feinstein's my guest. He has a new CD called "Michael Feinstein with
the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra." And he's brought with him some rare
recordings and outtakes.

You know, a lot of us who love American popular song worry that it's, you
know--that the audience has shrunken a lot, that people aren't writing great
songs like that as much anymore. For quite a while, some of those songs were
really associated with a kind of gay sensibility, but I think it's a
generational thing in that, you know, a lot of gay men don't know these songs
at all, and I'm not sure it really is at all a part of the kind of, quote,
"gay sensibility" of the younger generation. And I wonder if you have any
thoughts about that.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, I do, because I think that you're quite right that a
lot of younger gay men and women don't know this material. I think it is a
generational thing where a lot of it has disappeared. However, my audiences
are definitely demographically younger than they were a few years ago, and I
think that that is due to the proliferation of jazz moving more and more into
the mainstream with Diana Krall and other performers who have had
extraordinary success singing standards. And therefore, people discover these
songs, either through Diana's recordings or as the end title of a movie, if
it's "Someone to Watch Over Me" sung by Sting or Annie Lennox, or hearing it
on a commercial.

There are so many different places that this music is heard that has made it
the fabric of our time, that it does survive. I used to worry greatly because
I thought that a lot of my audience was dying, either due to old age or to
AIDS, as there has been a decimation of the gay community, of course. And so
many people who were the keepers of the flame of this material have left us.
But I truly feel that the legacy will go on and on, and certainly the
audiences that I have make me feel quite secure in--in saying that.

GROSS: Well, Michael Feinstein, I want to thank you so much for talking with
us. Thank you.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you. It was a true pleasure.

GROSS: Michael Feinstein has a new CD on which he's accompanied by the Israel
Philharmonic Orchestra. He'll do an American tour with the orchestra in

Here's the closing track from the CD, a song by composer Jerry Herman from his
show "Mack & Mabel."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) I won't send roses or hold the door. I won't
remember which dress you wore. My heart is too much in control. The lack of
romance in my soul will turn you gray, kid, so stay away, kid. Forget my
shoulder when you're in need. Forgetting birthdays is guaranteed. And should
I love you, you would be the last to know. I won't send roses, and roses suit
you so.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with Michael Feinstein from his album of
songs composed by Burton Lane, featuring Lane at the piano. Feinstein and
Lane sing a duet of this obscure Ira Gershwin lyric.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FEINSTEIN and Mr. BURTON LANE: (Singing in unison) Applause, applause,
we like applause because...

Mr. LANE: (Singing) means, when it is striking us...

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) ...the audience is liking us.

Mr. FEINSTEIN and Mr. LANE: (Singing in unison) Our work demands you don't
sit on your hands.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) And if a hand's tremendous...

Mr. LANE: (Singing) send us.

Mr. FEINSTEIN and Mr. LANE: (Singing in unison) We live, we thrive, you
keep us all alive...

Mr. LANE: (Singing) ...with bravo and bravissimo.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: (Singing) We're dead if it's pianissimo.

Mr. FEINSTEIN and Mr. LANE: (Singing in unison) Our quirk is work, is work
we never shirk in a happy land of tinsel and gauze, because we like applause.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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