SINGER AND PIANIST Michael Feinstein has carved himself a unique place in American music. He was among the first artists of the current era to breathe life back into the “Great American Songbook” and re-popularize standards by tunesmiths like Cole Porter, Jule Styne and Irving Berlin. He’s also an archivist and worked with the aging Ira Gershwin to organize the family’s musical catalog.

Feinstein’s newest CD, “The Sinatra Project,” finds him in both of these roles, singing a dozen songs originally performed by Frank Sinatra and also unearthing some obscurities. Express caught up with him by telephone before a performance in London.

» EXPRESS: Was there an attempt on the new CD to avoid familiar chestnuts like “My Way” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”?
» FEINSTEIN: Yes. Well, I hate “My Way.” Sinatra hated it, too. He quite frequently used four-letter words in his description of that song. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is such a definitive performance and recording that I saw no point in trying to copy that. So instead, I took another Cole Porter song, “Begin the Beguine,” which he sang and recorded in the 1940s and interpreted it as if he had done it in the 1950s. People who hear it think that it’s a vintage Nelson Riddle chart, but it’s not. So, yes, I did want to avoid things that were so closely connected to him there was no leeway for a different interpretation.

» EXPRESS: What was the concept behind the CD?
» FEINSTEIN: I’ve wanted to pay tribute to Frank Sinatra for quite some time. It’s obvious to say that he changed the face of popular American music in the 20th century. So I wanted to celebrate that and create a sense of connection or lineage from the Sinatra era to the present way standards are interpreted.

» EXPRESS: How did you conceive the shows?
» FEINSTEIN: They’ll be with a 17-piece big band. I’m very excited about that because the response wherever I’ve gone has been sensational. People are so carried away with the sound and power of a big band, which is a rarity these days. I’ll also be doing numbers at the piano solo and some with a smaller combo (with musicians) from the band. And it’s all interspersed with a lot of humorous anecdotes and stories about the songs.

» EXPRESS: What is it about Sinatra that makes him so captivating?
» FEINSTEIN: Sinatra not only had an extraordinary voice, but his emotional connection to his material was such that he elevated what he was singing in many instances. I think that he not only changed with the times but evolved and got deeper into his interpretations, and people recognize that.

» Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda; Sun., 7 p.m., $30-$55; 301-581-5100. (Grosvenor-Strathmore)

Written by Express contributor Tony Sclafani
Photo by Randee St. Nicholas