Photo: Scott Mitchell

Michael Feinstein rolled back into town Sunday night to give us folks in the Bay Area a nice opportunity to take our mothers to a great show for Mother's Day and my sister and I took advantage of it. I didn't even know this show was part of SFJazz Spring Season, which may account for why it seemed so under publicized. SFJazz puts on some really great shows, but unless you're plugged into their mailing list or still read the Chronicle, you're unlikely to see much publicity surrounding their often world-class concerts.
Feinstein's show is called "The Sinatra Project," which generally means he's mining Frank's old set lists for the crowd favorites along with more obscure songs he performed but never recorded. Feinstein makes this work rather impressively and thankfully the the show steers clear from becoming "A Tribute to Sinatra." Backed by a super-tight big band led by Bill Elliott (unfortunately never completely introduced nor listed anywhere I can find on SFJazz's website despite what is says in the program), Feinstein essentially sings in the style and range of the 50's Capitol-era Sinatra while the band goes for a Nelson Riddle, 60's Reprise-era sound.
This is a smart and savvy combination. Feinstein's tenor really sounds nothing like Sinatra's baritone at all, but since today's audiences seemed more predisposed to like the larger and louder Riddle-style arrangements over the more subdued stylings of the Tommy Dorsey era (which would be a more natural fit for Feinstein), why not combine the two?
It works really well, especially since Feinstein has the smarts and talent to play to his own considerable strengths. There probably is no living singer who is better with this material. Avoiding all the cliches except for "New York, New York," which he succeeded in owning outright, the show started off strong with "Luck Be a Lady" and stayed there. Particular highlights included Sammy Cahn's "All My Tomorrows," "Begin the Beguine" and "The Man that Got Away." His voice was simply fantastic- smooth and powerful, with hardly ever any vibrato inching into many of the songs extended climaxes. He pretty much killed it on every tune.
Feinstein thanked San Francisco as being the place he got started 20 years ago and this comment made me long for the good old days when there were still quite a few piano bars in town, almost all of which are now gone or devoid of any reason to visit. This is such a loss for the City. At one point in the not-too-distant past you could go out on any night of the week, in a few different neighborhoods, and listen to very talented local people singing this repertoire for the cost of a drink. Now there's pretty much just Martuni's, which can be anathema for a purist depending on the night. It was very nice to see Barry Lloyd, one the best of the remaining local talents, in the lobby before the show.
By the way, my Mom loved the show, as I hoped she would.
Happy Mother's Day Mom- you're the best.