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Curating the canon

Feinstein keeps standards alive with passion for mid-century gems

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Michael Feinstein concert
7 p.m. Sunday
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society
Tickets $40-$75
202-785-9727 or wpas.org

Ol’ blue eyes is back. And Feinstein’s got him.

Michael Feinstein, that is, the multi-platinum selling, five-time Grammy nominee. The cabaret-style interpreter not only of Sinatra but also Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers, the composer famous for his work with two separate lyricists, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein III.

And a raft of others — especially the Gershwins — in the canon of Americana’s classic popular music, a genre that Feinstein himself, at a youthful 54 (still slender and boyish and with a legendary million-dollar smile) has done so much to keep alive.

(Photo courtesy of Washington Performing Arts Society)

He’s been called “the ambassador of the great American songbook” and married his partner Terrence Flannery in a 2008 ceremony officiated by Judge Judy (Judith Sheindlin).

And he’s back keeping the Sinatra legend alive. It started on his 2009 album “Sinatra Project.” It will continue during his Sunday night concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

“I’m doing Sinatra for sure on Sunday,” Feinstein says. “But it’s reminiscence, not a copy, because its folly to copy him.”

The show will be “very high-energy,”  says Feinstein, “with new big band arrangements, a tribute to Nelson Riddle,” the longtime American arranger and bandleader who worked with Sinatra as well as Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney and so many other vocal stars of the mid-20th century. And it will be fllled, he says, “with anecdotes about Sinatra’s life and career, which lasted from his beginnings as a swing-era idol of “bobby-soxers” in the 1940s, through his Capitol Records albums like the legendary “In The Wee Small Hours” and “Only the Lonely,” and then the master of top 40 hits, and later his Rat Pack years with Dean Martin and other Hollywood B-listers in the “Ocean’s 11” film — a tribute to his long-time base as a headliner in Las Vegas clubs until his death in 1998.

Feinstein has famously taken a classic song, “We Kiss in a Shadow,” the weepy old chestnut from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” where two clandestine lovers yearn “for one smiling day to be free,” and rendered the ballad of exquisite sexual longing as an appeal for same-sex marriage rights. He sings it in a duet sung, gazing into each other’s eyes — with Cheyenne Jackson, also gay, the 35-year-old heart-throb from the 2007 Broadway musical “Xanadu”  and the Elvis Presley sound-alike on stage in 2005 in “All Shook Up.”

Feinstein and Jackson, also a series regular in both Fox’s “Glee” and NBC’s “30 Rock,” performed together in the show “The Power of Two,” in 2009 at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency on New York City’s swanky East Side.

Though they each have their own partners, Feinstein and Jackson elicit sparks when duetting.

At one point, during “We Kiss in a Shadow,” they turn to each other and exult, singing together “behold and believe what you see.” And audiences did. Timed for the debate in New York State over marriage equality, Feinstein and Jackson were sending a powerful message to the uber-powerful folk who saw their show, but they did it with badinage and playful patter, realizing that if you want to “send a message, call Western Union,” don’t put on a show.

In that same show, light of heart and packed with so much pizzazz, the two of them, each with matinee-idol looks and dressed dapperly in matching black suits, white shirts and black ties, the two shared the spotlight with buddy songs like “I’m Nothing Without You,” from the show “City of Angels.” But in solos Feinstein brought his own low-melting-temperature vibrato to Cole Porter’s “So In Love” from “Can Can,” and also threw in some hilarious impersonations, mimicing Paul Lynde and Carol Channing. He also sat at the piano  and crooned another anthem, this one written directly to advocate for LGBT rights, Marshall Barer’s and Mickey Leonard’s “The Time Has Come,” written as a response to the Stonewall riot.

Feinstein’s roots are, of course, in cabaret, that musical genre that mixes Tin Pan Alley with Broadway show tunes and also the ambience of Weimar Republic gay-friendly precincts of Berlin’s “kabarett” in the 1920s. As Feinstein sees it, “American Idol’s” former viper-tongued wicked-witch-judge Simon Cowell, is totally wrong-headed when he habitually denounces anything he thinks sounds old-fashioned as “cabaret.”

Where did it all begin for Feinstein, this passion for the greatest American classic popular songs? In the American “middle-west” heartland of Columbus, Ohio, where he was born in 1956, the son of an amateur tap dancer (his mother) and a Sara Lee Corporation sales executive (his father). He credits his parents as “for exposing me to this music,” in a way he compares to the Suzuki method of teaching the young to play the violin by ear, “before they even know it’s music,” he says.

At age 5, he studied piano (still his instrument today) for several months with a teacher who sought in vain to get him to read sheet music and was angered when he didn’t since he was simply more comfortable playing by ear. His mother backed him up and took him out of lessons allowing him to learn to love music in his own way. By his teenage years, he says, “I had already diverged from my age group in taste.” When his sister listened to Carole King’s album “Tapestry,” he says that he was collecting 78s. As for the Beatles, he says he is not overly impressed. Ge calls “Yesterday,” for instance, “a great melody, but it’s a bad lyric, maudlin at best, a good song wasted.”

After finishing high school, he worked in local piano bars for two years and then moved to Los Angeles when he was 20. There he soon met June Levant, widow of the legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant, and through her he was introduced to Ira Gershwin, who hired young Feinstein to catalogue his extensive collection of phonograph records.  This assignment led to a six-year assignment working at Gershwin’s Beverly Hill home, preserving the legacy not only of Ira but also that of his composer brother George, who had died four decades earlier. From there he got to Gershwin’s next-door neighbor, singer Rosemary Clooney, with whom Feinstein formed a close relationship lasting until her death in 2002.

In 1986, Feinstein recorded his first CD, “Pure Gershwin,” followed soon by “Remember,” featuring the music of Irving Berlin” and later he embarked on his ambitious “songbook project,” where he would perform the music of a featured composer — such as Jule Styne and Jerry Herman — accompanied by the composer. Later, he would record two other albums of Gershwin’s music, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “Michael and George.”

“I’ve spent my life immersed in this music,” he says of all these composers and lyricists and their songs standards, “out of love for it, not even thinking about a career.” These songs are, he says, “are still pertinent to our times.” He wants “to keep the music alive for other generations,” a project that took major form in January when the Feinstein Foundation-funded $150-million Center for the Performing Arts, where he is artistic director, opened in Carmel, Ind. The complex includes a 1,600-seat concert hall plus smaller venues and houses his Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook, including also a library and archives storing his and other collections of rare recordings, orchestrations, sheet music and other cultural artifacts about songs.

Today, he is the owner of the Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Regency, a showcase for cabaret performers, where he performs himself in sold-out shows every Christmas. He also has an interest in Feinstein’s at the Shaw, in London. Recently he completed a six-part Warner Home Video series for television that depicts the history of the American popular song through 1960. He is also finishing a book about Gershwin’s music as well as working with producer Marc Platt  (“Wicked”) on a movie project about the composer’s life. And on top of all that, he directs a newly launched pop music series at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, where he and his partner live (they have a second home in Los Angeles).

Next up, either this autumn or maybe early next year will be an updated version of his PBS series, “Michael Feinstein’s All American Songbook,” which aired on the network last fall. He says they are now filming three more segments which will be broadcast with the first three and linked to a new and growing website available at no charge which the show’s executive producer and historian Ken Bloom has called “the ultimate companion for the documentary” and “a guide for the 21st century.” He calls it a “goldmine” where browsers can click on any song or performer for further information, plus audio and video links to their work.

For the past two years, Feinstein himself has also sponsored through his foundation the Great American Songbook High School Academy and Competition, a master class and contest for teenagers in seven midwestern states — in events attracting hundreds of entries. The winner gets a free trip to New York City and an opportunity to sing at his nightclub there.

For Feinstein one thing is clear. This music will thrive, he says, “because it never went away.”

For  more info on Feinstein and his many recordings and diverse projects, go here.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Duane Echols

    April 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Nice article but his first recordings were on LP — I have the first one that Michael autographed for me on one of his first visits to Washington.

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Real Estate

What to watch for during an open house

Check condition of kitchen, flooring, windows, and more

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When touring a home, check out the condition of kitchen cabinets.

Anyone who knows me might say that I am detail obsessed. This has proven to be an amazing asset when looking at real estate. When I scour through listings for clients I am analyzing the photos, floor plans, and square feet of each property to ensure that everything flows properly into what my clients are looking for in their home. These items I search for also tell the tale of how recently renovated a property is, how well loved it was and a general idea of how much will be needed to make improvements and get it into the condition and aesthetic of which my clients are dreaming. When the time comes to see property in person, the fun begins and I am going to provide a few simple tips that you can use on your Sunday open house strolls that we all love to do.

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of things that I, and other individuals, keep an eye out for when touring homes, but these are perhaps the most noticeable and least controversial. Let me state here (for my lawyer warned me) I am by no means a home inspector, contractor, interior designer, etc.

The kitchen truly is the heart of the home, especially with the holidays approaching. Some obvious items to identify are the cabinets. Are they soft close or can you slam them shut in an argument and really get your point across? If they are not soft close this means that likely they are on the older side and as such most items in the kitchen are also on the older side. In the kitchen I focus mainly on items that are difficult to remove, like cabinetry and counter surfaces. Appliances, while sometimes costly, can easily be replaced due to wear and tear.

• Moving through the house I take note of windows. What material are they made out of? Are they operational or painted shut? And how many are there? This last piece is CRUCIAL. This not only comes to mind when you need to replace windows but more immediately for the purpose of window coverings — it all adds up quickly.

Flooring is next on the list. Not so much that the warm wood tones will clash with my client’s furniture, but more so the condition of the flooring and how much there is. Again, similar to the windows, coming from a place of utility and replacement. What condition is the flooring in and what type? If I’m lucky enough to find original wood floors my clients have been searching for, how many times have they been refinished and can they be refinished again? If not, then how large is the home and what’s the cost to replace the flooring. As I pointed out earlier, on behalf of my lawyer, I am not a structural engineer either. I would take note of any low points or dips in the flooring and if needed, consult an engineer to take a look at the support pieces of the home.

Moving onto electrical components. An easy thing to look for is outlets. Identify the type of outlets a home has. We are fortunate here in the DMV to have a plethora of older homes. This comes with its own set of challenges. If you see an outlet that only accepts a two-prong plug then likely the electrical system is older and will need to be upgraded. Looking at the electrical panel for the home is also a very important step. If there are two prong outlets and glass fuses in the electrical panel then this is a great time to call Chip and Joanna Gaines as this home will likely need a massive overhaul.

Again, this is in no way an exhaustive list of things to identify as you are house hunting but rather some items that I always look for and point out when advising clients with perhaps one of the most expensive and scariest purchases of their lives. These items above are not meant to condemn a home but instead identify if a home is a good fit for you based on a more in-depth look. Paint and light fixtures can be changed, similar to hair color, but it’s a bit harder to change one’s heart. Ensuring the overall structure of the home and the more expensive components are in working order and have several useful years left is paramount. 

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243 or [email protected]

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Real Estate

Investing in real estate: What you need to know

From REITs to flips, tips for getting started

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In many cases, buying or selling a home is a very personal experience. Many people buy a home with the intention of living there – making memories, building a family, becoming part of a community. The same is true of sellers. Selling a home, in many cases, is simultaneously difficult and exciting – it means the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. While the majority of buying and selling experiences may be personal – increasingly, others in the market are interested in real estate not just to find a home, but also to make a great investment.

In our current market, it’s easy to see why real estate can often end up being quite a profitable investment. In 2021, sellers often saw huge profits on the sale of real estate – but even in years where profits aren’t quite as significant as this year, real estate has often proven to be a sound and reliable long-term investment strategy. Real estate investments can add diversification to your portfolio, and a very successful venture, particularly if you buy and sell when the circumstances are right.

Over the last several years, many gay neighborhoods around the country have shown steady appreciation, leading investors, and particularly LGBTQ investors, to consider whether the time is right to consider adding real estate to their investment portfolio. For those considering real estate as an investment strategy, here are a few helpful tips:

• Consider REITs: For those just getting started with real estate investment, Real Estate Investment Trusts, or “REITs” for short, might be a good option. These provide the opportunity to invest in real estate without owning the physical real estate yourself. They are often compared to mutual funds, and you invest in a company, a REIT, which owns commercial real estate like office buildings, apartments, hotels, and retail spaces. Generally, REITs pay high dividends, which make them a popular investment in retirement, as well as for investors not wanting to own one particular piece of property.

• Consider investing in rental properties: Rental income can often be a steady, reliable source of income if you do your due diligence researching the property itself, the surrounding neighborhood, and the potential community of renters. While maintaining a rental property will certainly require some investment of time and energy on your part, it can be a profitable long-term investment and one that is appealing to many people.

• Put your skills to work: If you have a skill set that includes being able to renovate and upgrade homes – or if you know a trusted person or team of people who does, flipping a home that could use some renovation can be quite a profitable investment indeed. Getting a home that could use some extra TLC at a good price and updating it can result in a sales price that is significantly higher than the purchase price. This can certainly be a very good investment – and a fulfilling project too.

• Be willing to listen and learn: When trying something new, it is almost always helpful to talk to those with experience in that area. Investing in real estate is no different. Having a mentor who can give you some tips and advice from their own experience is invaluable.

• Get to know the neighborhood: When making any real estate decision, whether you’re going to live in a home yourself or purchase property for investment purposes, knowing the neighborhood and community you’re interested in is important. A key part of that will be finding a real estate agent who knows and loves the community that you’re interested in, and who understands the market in that area. This can make all the difference between a smooth and successful process, and a stressful one.

(At GayRealEstate.com, we are dedicated to our mission of connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers with talented, knowledgeable, and experienced real estate agents across the country who can help them to achieve their real estate goals. Whether you’re interested in buying or selling a home that you live in personally, or buying and selling for investment purposes, we can connect you with an agent who knows and loves the community, and who can help you achieve your goals. Contact us at any time. We look forward to helping you soon.)

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at
303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Dining

Bistro du Jour transports you from Wharf to Seine

New casually sophisticated restaurant a welcoming, inclusive space

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The owners of Bistro du Jour say, ‘Our restaurants are intended to be welcoming to all guests of all backgrounds, beliefs and demographics.’ (Photo by Rey Lopez courtesy Bistro du Jour)

Delights run morning to night at The Wharf’s new Bistro du Jour, a casually sophisticated French outpost sliding into a prime waterfront space.

Courtesy of gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design, this new restaurant flaunts a menu born from a Seine-side bistro, serving coffee in the morning hours to Champagne in the evening. Its all-day culinary oeuvre begins with coffee (from La Colombe) and omelettes, and ends with items like a towering and meaty bi-patty cheeseburger L’Americain.

Taking over the sweet spot vacated by Dolcezza, Bistro du Jour is a sister to Mi Vida and The Grill, KNEAD group’s two other Southwest waterfront locales. The group also runs several other formal and large-format restaurants they have populated across the city.

Why bring French to the Wharf?

“We have been here for almost four years and we knew what the area was missing and acted on it,” says one of the co-owners, Jason Berry. “We wanted something where people could come in at all hours of the day and find something they wanted, from coffee and pastry to a full-on sit down at night.”

The Bistro opens at 7:30 a.m. serving that local La Colombe coffee, plus flaky, buttery pastries from KNEAD’s partner Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery. Breakfast service starts at 8 a.m. with brioche doughnuts, quiches, a “massive” Belgian waffle, and French toast topped with a blueberry compote and sweetened whipped cream.

Executive Chef Treveen Dove – transferred after three years at another KNEAD spot, Succotash Prime) – oversees the offerings, a tour of the “greatest hits” of a typical Parisian bistro.

“Oeufs Sur Le Plat is to die for, with the griddled buttered bread topped with a sunny side up egg, sautéed mushrooms and a Mornay sauce… It’s so rich and delicious.”

By 11 a.m., the Bistro transitions to other traditional French fare, like French onion soup, tuna Niçoise salad, steak frites, mussels in a white wine and garlic butter, and a croque madame sandwich dripping with gruyere and creamy Bechamel. One unique offering is whipped brown butter with radishes and crostinis. There are also gougeres, warm cheese puffs shot through with gruyere.

Come 4 p.m., the dinner menu fills out even more, with additional dinner items confit de canard (duck leg with green lentils and red wine shallots); and a robust, earthy coq au vin (braised chicken with bacon, mushrooms and mashed potatoes); and a lamb shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes that would be at home on a French Alps farm.

Due to space limitations, the Bistro lacks a sit-down bar. Yet beverage director Darlin Kulla, who has been a part of the KNEAD family for more than four years, has put together a focused menu of six craft cocktails. You’ll find not only a French 75 (gin, lemon verbena, lemon, bubbles), but also a Manhattan and a “Champs Elysees” with cognac, chartreuse, lemon, and bitters.

The bar itself carries only one brand of each liquor: one gin, rum, and vodka. “ If you want vodka, you’re having Grey Goose,” notes Reg with a smile.

Given the cuisine, there is a considerable French wine list topping 60 bottles, leaning heavily on Champagne and sparkling wine. There are almost 20 red, white, rose, and Champagne options by the glass and carafe, as well. The bar rounds out its stock with French aperitifs and bottled beer.

Notably, the majority of the restaurant’s seating is situated on the building’s exterior, in a newly constructed all-season patio enclosure with almost 70 seats. The owners designed the space to maximize waterfront views, capacity, and flexibility. During warmer days, the Potomac breeze is welcome to flutter around coffee-sippers; in the colder months, the windows roll down for a fully enclosed and conditioned space. The patio’s banquettes arrived directly from France, and twinkling strung lights sway from the ceiling.

The interior is done up in Mediterranean greens, pinks, and creams. Big windows welcome in daytime natural light, but allow for a dim, mood-lit atmosphere in the evening. Traditional bentwood bistro chairs dot the space and antique-style tin tiles reflect a classic Parisian flair. Over at the bar, the glassware display was created from a single panel of antiqued brass. At the rear, a daytime counter offers coffee, pastries, and drinks.

As Bistro du Jour’s owners are both gay men, they note that, “Our restaurants are intended to be welcoming to all guests of all backgrounds, beliefs and demographics. We cater to everyone, which is the only way to lead a hospitality organization.”

“When you’re part of a minority group in society,” they say, “the only way to lead your restaurants is as inclusive, welcoming, and hospitable leaders.”

Though smaller than their other ventures, a French bistro right on the teeming, pedestrian-heavy Wharf “was the perfect fit,” they say. 

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