“The first time I visited the Library of Congress, I flew from my home in New York to Washington, D.C., holding eighty-seven manuscripts in the hand of George Gershwin to be delivered to the library. I was in my twenties and had been working as the assistant to Ira Gershwin, George’s eighty-year-old brother. Believe me, I clutched those manuscripts as if my life depended on it—which, in a way, it did. Ira would have killed me if anything had happened to them.
“Since that first trip, I have performed at least a half-dozen times in the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. It’s a very heady experience. Just as some people believe that wine tastes better in expensive goblets, I believe that buildings retain energy from those who pass through them. Knowing what’s in the library—from the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was shot to a complete Gutenberg Bible—makes it a very special place.
“Of course, one of my favorite spots in the library is the Gershwin Room. It contains George Gershwin’s Steinway piano that Ira had in his home. Gershwin composed Porgy and Bess on that piano. Jerome Kern, Aaron Copland, Oscar Levant—they all composed or played on it, and sometimes Judy Garland sang, or Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart would recite verse. Now it’s behind a partition, and once when I visited, I reached over and ran my hands along its keys. A guard stopped me. ‘You can’t do that,’ he said. ‘Oh,’ I answered him, ‘but I had a relationship with this piano for years.’”
Five-time Grammy-nominated entertainer-historian Michael Feinstein will star in the three-part PBS series Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, premiering October 6. He is a regular performer at his New York City nightclub, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency (tickets from $95) and the artistic director of the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, scheduled to open in January.
A Hotel for History Buffs
“The Jefferson (1200 16th St. NW; 202/448-2300; jeffersondc.com; doubles from $550) has a book room that looks like it belonged to our founding fathers. I stayed there the last time I played at the White House.”
Dining in D.C.
“Busboys & Poets (2021 14th St. NW; 202/387-7638; dinner for two $59) celebrates the legacy of Langston Hughes. There’s music, a reading series, and a menu that ranges from steak to vegan options, for me.”
NYC Music Club
“On Monday nights at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison (221 W. 46th St., New York City; 212/719-5799; edisonhotelnyc.com; admission and drinks for two $60) you’ll hear songs from the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s—the shank of the Great American Songbook. People get up and jitterbug. It sure beats Dancing with the Stars.”