August 11, 2017 – By Robert D. Thomas for The Pasadena Star-News

One of the pleasures of attending a Pasadena Pops concert featuring Michael Feinstein is the care with which he plans each program, even if it’s not what we were expecting.

Saturday night, July 29, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, Feinstein offered a program that had originally been titled “Michael Feinstein Sings and Swings: Celebrating Swing, the Rat Pack and More.” Instead, Feinstein told the large crowd in attendance, the theme was to be “Swinging Songs for Lovers.”

As is the case when Feinstein focuses on singing, Pops’ resident conductor Larry Blank led the orchestra stylishly. He also arranged some of the songs. The musicians played with confident verve.

There was swing music, but there was more from the Broadway stage, and as Feinstein noted early in his talks, “There are ballads that have been reinterpreted as swing music and vice versa.” He then quoted composer Hugo Winterhalter, who said, “It is those different interpretations that make the music live forever.”

By way of explanation, he offered a Frank Sinatra favorite, “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” which began as a swing number and morphed into a ballad. He followed that with the haunting ballad “Hello, Young Lovers” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” which was arranged by Johnny Mandel as a swing number.

Perhaps the most interesting selection was “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” which Sinatra sang in 1943. However, Feinstein used an arrangement by Axel Stordahl that melded the song with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6. Feinstein dedicated the song to Sinatra’s widow, Barbara, who died in July.

An unannounced guest for the evening was pop singer Jack Jones (now age 79), who delivered a medley from the Broadway show “Man of La Mancha” that included “The Impossible Dream.” Jones’ recording of that iconic number in 1966 hit No. 35 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 1 on the U.S. adult contemporary chart.

Saturday night, Jones had the audience spellbound and received a thunderous standing ovation at the conclusion.

Feinstein closed the first half with a generous medley of Bing Crosby songs, delivering them with refined sensitivity. There was a bit more swing music in the second half, and Feinstein even made a reasonably accurate impersonation of Louis Armstrong when he sang “Hello Dolly.” As Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson wrote, it was, indeed, a lovely way to spend an evening.