Great American Songbook interpreter Michael Feinstein appears at his San Francisco club this week. (Courtesy Stephen Sorokoff)

Michael Feinstein marks five years at the Nikko

Michael Feinstein is celebrating the fifth anniversary of his San Francisco cabaret room with positive vibes.

“It’s been a joyous ride,” says the champion of the Great American Songbook, who’s marking the occasion with a five-show engagement this week at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, in the theater district’s Hotel Nikko.

Typically, his concerts have a theme, but these upcoming shows will be a melange of favorites, requests and new material.

The Nikko gig is one of two annual appearances at the club, one of two with his name: Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City has been in business since 2015, following a 14-year run of Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency Hotel.

Although he doesn’t run daily operations, Feinstein enjoys solid relationships with the clubs and ensures that the acts they book and their ambiance reflect his sensibilities. (He says patrons on both coasts have “dug deeper” into the standards repertoire than fans in the Midwest.)

But club dates are just a fraction of what’s on the schedule of this singer, pianist, archivist and educator, who added conductor to his resume in 2013 when he debuted with the Pasadena Pops after the sudden death of its leader Marvin Hamlisch.

“I was asked to assume his post,” says Feinstein, who was guest singing Cole Porter at Hamlisch’s last performance. “I said, ‘No, this is not what I do,’ but they were quite persistent,” he adds.

It worked out. Audiences have grown from 1,200 people to a capacity 5,000, he says, attributing the success to the repertoire he programs.

“Audiences know they’re going to hear arrangements they can’t hear anywhere else,” says Feinstein, who pulls material from his huge collection of original orchestrations by composers including Neal Hefti, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May and Nelson Riddle. (He started another pops series in Palm Beach, Fla. in 2014).

Feinstein also heads the Great American Songbook Foundation, a nonprofit in Indiana dedicated to preserving and promoting the art form; among its programs is the High School Songbook Academy, with graduates such as Maddie Baillio of “Hairspray Live!” as well as youngsters whose passion for standards lives alongside other music styles.

While the Great American Songbook isn’t on trend today, Feinstein says, “It definitely will survive.” Pointing to its affective lyrics, harmonic structures and melodies, he says, “It’s niche music that will always have an audience because it’s unique and special.”

It’s also evolving, and growing, he says: ”Unfortunately, ‘Let It Go’ from ‘Frozen’ will be in it.”

The Disney tune won’t be in Feinstein’s set this week in San Francisco, a place for which he holds a special affection.

“My nightclub career started in the Plush Room in the York Hotel,” says the often traveling resident of Carmel, Ind., who has let go of homes in Los Angeles and New York.

He adds, ”The embrace of the audiences in the Bay Area gave me courage and confidence to continue. That love affair with the audience has grown, and not diminished.”


Michael Feinstein
Where: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. May 16, 8 p.m. May 17-19, 5 p.m. May 20
Tickets: $64 to $105
Contact: (866) 663-1063,

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