The PBS Series: Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook
The PBS Series
The PBS Series Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook
Cultural history, intimate biography, and a front-row seat to great live performances
Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook is a dynamic, documentary-style road trip and cultural primer, with Michael Feinstein as the leader of an expedition through the glorious history of American popular song.
Viewers follow him both on stage and back stage, hear him interpret great standards, listen in on personal stories about the songwriters and entertainers he’s known and worked with over three decades, and accompany him on his quest to find and preserve the treasures of classic American popular music.
Rare archival audio and film footage combine to reveal the social and historical forces behind the music that helped shape the style, attitude, and self-image of America for more than a century.
Filled with generous portions of live performance, this series offers both an intimate portrait of a unique entertainer, and a history of 20th Century pop culture.
Sara P. Carruthers, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation
The Lizzie and Jonathan M. Tisch Foundation
Peter O. Hanson, Irwin Helford, The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation
The Ted Snowdon Foundation, The Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation
The Scherer Foundation, The Ruder Bever Family
Diane P. Kranz, Jamie deRoy Charitable Trust
Season Two Production Funding provided by
Sara P. Carruthers, The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation
Louise Kerz Hirschfeld and Lewis B. Cullman, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation
Irwin Helford, The Lizzie and Jonathan M. Tisch Foundation
Peter O. Hanson, Hank and Susan Scherer
“Time Machines” explores how technology has preserved—and altered—the way we think about the great songs and singers of the past.
On a coast to coast tour that stops in New York, Palm Springs, Kansas City, upstate New York, and even the storied Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, Michael Feinstein introduces viewers to Soundies (the original music videos,) the historic Kansas City building where “jam sessions” were born (which still hosts after-hours gigs,) and an eclectic array of performers and collectors who help keep the music alive, including the avid collector and music lover Hugh Hefner, who shares rare footage of cabaret legend Bobby Short, and the British crooner Al Bowlly.
Lost and Found
“Lost and Found” follows Michael’s efforts to unravel the mystery surrounding a musical manuscript attributed to Irving Berlin.
Along the way, he persuades another musical legend, Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, to teach him an unpublished, unrecorded song from his songwriting “trunk” that’s never been prior to this broadcast.
Between live performances in Dallas, Palm Desert, CA, and Clinton, CT, Michael’s journey takes him to New York, Los Angeles, and Madison, WI. Guest appearance by Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole.
“Saloon Singers” examines the allure of musical nightlife, from Mississippi juke joints (where Michael dazzles the crowd with some impromptu boogie-woogie blues) to the neon of Las Vegas, where he gets a private tour of the now-closed Liberace Museum, and plays one of the rhinestone encrusted pianos.
While keeping up his own busy schedule of live performances at his New York nightclub, and the brand new performing arts center in Carmel, IN, Michael delves into the history of nightclub entertainment, from the Cotton Club in Harlem to Sinatra’s Rat Pack.
He goes through the archives of composer Jimmy McHugh—whose career spans Vaudeville to Vegas—and visits with nightclub pioneers Rose Marie (she literally “opened” Las Vegas in the 1940s) and the poet and author Maya Angelou, who used to make her living doing a calypso club act in San Francisco.
“Putting On the Tail Fins” focuses on the 1950s and ‘60s when the Great American Songbook was in competition with new forms like rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues.
As Michael criss-crosses the country performing with big bands, symphony orchestras, and jazz combos, we learn how iconic singers like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Rosemary Clooney kept the Songbook alive by reinventing pop standards from the 1930s and ‘40s.
Best Band in the Land (1940s)
“Best Band in the Land” examines how popular songs provided emotional solace and patriotic inspiration during World War II.
While preparing an original patriotic song of his own, to be performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Michael weaves in the history of 1940s big bands, USO shows and V-disks, and war bond rallies, and the powerful role popular music played in boosting morale.
A New Step Every Day (1920s–early 1930s)
“A New Step Every Day” explores the fast and furious 1920s and '30s when jazz was hot, credit was loose, and illegal booze flowed freely in underground speakeasies.
Between performances, Michael explores the impact of talking pictures, the dawn of radio, the fledgling recording industry, and introduces us to collectors and musicians who keep the spirit of the Jazz Age alive today.