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Feinstein, Michael (b. 1956)  
 
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American pianist and singer Michael Feinstein has had a lifelong fascination with the popular music of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. He cites Al Jolson and Bing Crosby as his earliest musical influences, but among the most important were George and Ira Gershwin. An avid collector of their recordings since he was a boy, Feinstein became an archivist for Ira Gershwin, in which capacity he was able to study rare recordings and unpublished material by the Gershwins.

A popular performer in clubs and on the concert tour, Feinstein has also put out twenty albums, two of which were nominated for Grammy awards.

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Feinstein was born in Columbus, Ohio--"not exactly a hotbed of musical activity, especially for . . . show music," as he admits--on September 7, 1956, already well after the heyday of the songwriters that he would come to admire.

Music was a part of Feinstein's life from his earliest days. His father, Edward Feinstein, a meat salesman by trade, was a member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America and took his young son along to the meetings. His mother, Florence Mae Cohen Feinstein, an amateur tap dancer, shared his father's "great passion for music," according to Feinstein.

When Feinstein was five, his parents bought a spinet piano. The boy took to it immediately, playing songs by ear. His parents signed him up for music lessons, but he continued to play by ear, imitating what he heard his teacher play. The music lessons were soon abandoned, but Feinstein's fascination with the piano continued, and he became a self-taught musician. He did not learn to read music until he was in his twenties.

Growing up, Feinstein was a rather solitary child. His passion was music, and his musical tastes were distinctly different from those of most of his schoolmates. Intrigued by his parents' old 78-rpm records, he soon began his own collection, going to second-hand stores to buy records by such artists as Al Jolson and Bing Crosby.

At fifteen he saw a televised movie about the life of George Gershwin. Deeply moved by Gershwin's music, he began scouring the city's thrift stores in search of recordings of his works and books about him.

In high school Feinstein was a member of the choir and the drama club. In his senior year he was voted the best actor in the school.

Never a particularly avid student, Feinstein decided to forego college but did not have a specific career plan. He had already been entertaining at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and now began to play at clubs as well. He also worked briefly as an accompanist for dance classes at Ohio State University.

When his father received a promotion and transfer to California, Feinstein decided to move there too. He took a job at a piano store, where he proved to be excellent at demonstrating the instruments, but, in his own words, he was "a lousy salesman."

It was Feinstein's passion for collecting old records that led to an important job opportunity. In a Hollywood record shop, he bought some rare acetate recordings by Oscar Levant, a pianist who had been a close friend of George Gershwin and recorded many of his songs. The shopkeeper told Feinstein that the recordings had come from Levant's estate. Curious about the circumstances of their sale, Feinstein arranged a meeting with the pianist's widow, June Levant.

Levant discovered that the recordings had been included in the estate sale by mistake, and, impressed with Feinstein's knowledge of her husband's career and works, asked him to help her catalog his record collection. In lieu of payment for his work, Feinstein asked Levant to introduce him to Ira Gershwin.

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