SPARKS — If Michael Feinstein wanted to say thank you to Frank Sinatra, why couldn’t he be like the rest of us and just send a card?
Instead, he had to go make the rest of us look ungrateful by recording two albums of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ music with his own unique musical interpretation.
“Doing these projects that salute Frank Sinatra has been a dream come true for me because he was so great to me personally and I always wanted to find a way to say thank you to him and celebrate his work,” Feinstein said in a phone interview last week. “He certainly didn’t need me to glorify him but my personal desire to share with people what I had learned from him and to accept the delicious challenge of performing his music without copying him and finding something fresh for audiences was the exciting part for me.”
Feinstein, who will perform at John Ascuaga’s Nugget on Saturday as part of the monthlong Artown festival, said this desire to pay homage to Sinatra evolved into an idea of arranging his songs in different styles from throughout his career. For example, he recorded “Begin the Beguine,” recorded in the 1940s, as if it were done by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra in the 1950s. The results of his efforts can be found on “The Sinatra Project” from 2008 and “The Sinatra Project Volume II: The Good Life,” released last year.
Feinstein said he was most concerned with reactions from die hard Sinatra fans. He has found that they have been very accepting of the concept and enthusiastic about his new aproach to Sinatra’s work. He has also gotten good response from younger fans, particularly thanks to the Internet and easier access to a variety of music to people of all ages.
“One of the great things is that the audiences are very eclectic and wide-ranging ages, so absolutely there are a lot of younger and younger people who are in the audience. And I’m mindful of that because I know that there may be people there at the concerts that have never heard some of these songs or might not be that familiar with Sinatra’s work,” Feinstein said. “So that’s one of the things that I love about what I do is that it absolutely does have contemporary appeal.”
One such young person will be on stage with Feinstein when he performs in Sparks. Nick Ziobro, a 15-year-old from upstate New York, was the winner of a week of high school competition in the Great American Songbook Initiative, which Feinstein started in Indiana. Ziobro, dekked out in a Sinatra-style hat, sang “One for my baby.”
“That is the most palpable proof that people of all ages love this music,” Feinstein said.
Saturday’s show in Sparks will be with a small group of musicians, similar to some famous combo performances Sinatra played.
“The thing that I love about doing a combo show is that it gives me the opportunity to have the ultimate flexibility,” Feinstein said. “I can sit down and do anything I want extemporaneously and just sort of play off the audience and do this and that.”
Which, in the spirit of the festival, gets to the raw nature of Feinstein’s art: on-stage performance created on the spur of the moment as inspired by the energy and response of the audience. As a purveyor of the arts with his own musical preservation efforts, Feinstein is a major supporter of local arts events such as Artown.
“The devlauation of the arts is something that is devastating to our society,” he said, “and I believe that a lot of the turmoil that exists in our country now stems in part from the lack of what the arts bring to making us well-balanced souls.”
Feinstein performs at 9 p.m. Saturday in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Tickets cost $69 and can be purchased online at www.janugget.com or by calling 356-3300. For more about Artown, visit www.renoisartown.com.
For more about Feinstein’s music and preservation efforts, visit www.michaelfeinstein.com.