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Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein: man on a mission

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein, the nation's authoritative keeper of popular music, is on a mission to save not just the Great American Songbook but also all of America and the world itself.

``As we know, arts have been fading. Arts are essential for a healthy society,'' says Feinstein, who on Friday opens the 2010-11 Jazz Roots series at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. ``Art reflects what's happening in society. It's a reflection of what's happening in our world -- the dumbing down of society is reflected in how the arts are.''

Feinstein has his work cut out for him, and he's working feverishly to do it. He's just released Fly Me to the Moon, an album with guitarist Joe Negri; performed at Carnegie Hall his Power of Two show of love songs and duets with fellow out performer Cheyenne Jackson; became artistic director for a $180 million cultural center being built in Carmel, Ind., and starred in PBS' three-part documentary, Michael Feinstein's American Songbook.

``I was approached by Amber Edwards, the producer. She seemed to think my life was peculiar enough and interesting enough and diverse enough,'' says Feinstein, 54, who began his career as archivist for lyricist Ira Gershwin and later playing piano for stars including Liza Minnelli.

``It's part documentary, part road trip, part musical performance,'' Feinstein says of the program, also available on DVD. ``It's my sensibility, my life. I live my life immersed in this music. The way to tell the story is through my passion for it. It is about me.''

Feinstein -- who postponed a Jazz Roots appearance last March when he co-starred with Dame Edna Everage in Broadway's short-lived All About Me -- is comfortable in the limelight.

Two years ago, Judge Judy Sheindlin presided at Feinstein's wedding to partner Terrence Flannery in California.

Friday night, Feinstein shares the bill with singer-pianist Ann Hampton Callaway, who's engaged to marry her female partner.

``I love Michael. I think he's the Great American Songbook's best friend,'' Callaway says. ``He's a wonderful singer, pianist and keeper of the flame of our country's great music.''

Michael Feinstein and Ann Hampton Callaway perform `Jazz Roots: American Songbook' 8 p.m. Friday at Adrienne Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Single tickets range from $25 to $130. www.arshtcen ter.org or 305-949-6722.

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