The Arty Semite

Q&A: Michael Feinstein on the Gershwins and 'Porgy'

By Sheerly Avni

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When Michael Feinstein was in his 20s, he had the good fortune to work as an assistant and archivist for the great Ira Gershwin, who, with his brother George, wrote some of the greatest and most beloved songs in American history. Now a beloved singer in his own right, Feinstein spoke with the Forward about his passion for the Gershwins during a break from his gig performing at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency in New York.

Sheerly Avni: How much of an impact did Jewish culture have on the Gershwins’ art?

Michael Feinstein: George was more influenced by it than Ira, who told me that he had really very little or no influence of Yiddish theatrical tradition although one of Ira’s favorite jokes is one he included in the score of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “Of Thee I Sing.” When the French ambassador makes an entrance at this moment of the show, [Ira] had the chorus singing these lyrics that are supposed to sound like pidgin French. But instead, they are actually speaking a line of Yiddish: “A vu tik er vay a vou” [Tell me, where does it hurt?], which, for people who speak Yiddish, is just hysterical.

Did they listen to Yiddish music?

Musically, George recognized that ethnic music is mainly all minor key; it all sounds alike. Take “Dark Eyes” [hums]…. That could be Jewish, Yiddish, German, Italian, French…. It’s all that minor key modality. But he did spend a lot of time going to see Yiddish theater and Yiddish musicals. And he also knew the Tomashevskys, and he knew Sholom Secunda, who wrote “Bay mir bistu sheyn.” But I think that because of George’s desire to write a really American music, he included influences from every aspect of what we now call the melting pot.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: porgy and bess, ira gershwin, michael Feinstein, george gershwin, the gershwins and me, fall books 2

This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Yuri Dojc
  • Leigh Kamping-Carder tells the story of the Mexican Suitcase, a collection of photographs from the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour that got lost in Mexico for almost 70 years.

  • Ilan Stavans wonders why we can’t escape from Harry Houdini.

  • Shoshana Olidort reviews Avi Steinberg’s “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.”

  • Marla Brown Fogelman reviews “The Jews of San Nicandro,” a book about a remote Italian town whose 80-odd inhabitants all converted to Judaism after World War II.

  • Philologos is on the make.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rodger Kamenetz, San Nicandro, Spanish Civil War, The Magician of Lublin, This Week in Forward Arts and Culture, Robert Capa, Richard Dreyfuss, Michael Feinstein, National Museum of American Jewish History, Mexican Suitcase, Isaia Sheffer, Harry Houdini, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Gerda Taro, Ezra Glinter, David Seymour, Avi Steinberg, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Yuri Dojc




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