G.I. Jive:The Music and Entertainers of World War II, opens on Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Palladium in Carmel. A new gallery exhibit of the Michael Feinstein Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook, it is presented in partnership with the Indiana chapter of the United Service Organization (USO).
The mission of the foundation, which was founded by Feinstein, who is also the artistic director for the Center for the Performing Arts, is to celebrate the American popular song and preserve it for the next generation.
Charles Cermele, producer of contemporary programming at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, said about the foundation’s importance to our country: “Michael’s encyclopedic knowledge of American popular music from the middle of the 20th century is mirrored in the commitment of his foundation to rescue and share the artifacts that represent our shared national soundtrack. Michael’s foundation helps Americans recognize the important contribution of great songwriters and great singers, who represent the best of our country’s cultural contribution and continue to be our finest global ambassadors.”
The executive director of the foundation is Doris Anne Sadler. Just prior to her current role, she served in public office for four years as the clerk of the Circuit Court of Marion County. Before that she was the deputy state auditor and legal counsel for the Indiana Auditor of State for six years.
Sadler was born in Louisiana and graduated from Louisiana State University in Shreveport, La., with a B.A. in political science. After graduating from LSU, she attended the University of Leningrad in the Soviet Union and Oxford University Institute on International and Comparative Law at Magdalen College in the U.K. Upon returning to the United States, Sadler received her J.D. degree at Rutgers University School of Law
“After I met Doris Anne,” said Feinstein, “it was obvious that she had the experience, knowledge, people skills, drive and common sense to handle the myriad details that were involved in getting the foundation up and running.
“Actually, I felt like she was possibly overqualified, since she is a lawyer and has handled very complex legal issues in the past,” Feinstein added. “However, ultimately it was her passion and ability to visualize our potential that made me most want to work with her. She is a tremendous asset to all of us and a fun person to spend time with.”
Sadler is married to husband Tim and is mother of two children, Morgan and Lucy.
Recently she spoke with knotmove.com in her office at foundation headquarters on the gallery level of the Palladium.
It was quite a shift to go from county clerk to your present job, right?
Well, it is a shift from what I did before, but not so much in some ways. I’ve always loved this music.This is what I listened to long before I ever met Michael Feinstein or knew anything about the Center for Performing Arts and what was happening. You know, life is always a series of occurrences and gifts of people coming through your life at different times, and you have to be open to opportunities. Michael came into my life through mutual friends and business partners, and he asked if I would be willing to help him get this foundation under way, and I said, “Absolutely, what a fun thing to do”, and now that’s been four and a half years.
He must have known about your love of this music, right?
I’d gone to see him in concert a couple of times, and we had talked at events. He and his partner,Terrence, actually watched the PBS film about me and my staff and the 2004 presidential election. So we kind of knew each other on a personal level, but he also saw me in my professional world.
What PBS film was that, Doris Anne?
It was called By the People, and it was picked up by PBS. It was a documentary that followed me and my staff through the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election.Terrence saw that, and he’d also been working with my husband, so they knew each other through business contacts.
So Michael called and said he’d been thinking about what to do with his collection, and he had kind of an amorphous idea about how to make this all happen and asked me if I were interested in helping him. At first we weren’t exactly sure of what we wanted this thing to look like or how to operate it. It took us a good year to really kind of dig in and figure out how we could make this mission of preserving this music both physically and through education for young people, happen.
It was about a year after that Mayor Brainard (Carmel) called me. I had known him from the political world. He said, “Aren’t you working with Michael Feinstein on something?” And I said, “yes,” and he said, “Have you ever thought about placing an epicenter for the performing arts in Carmel?” And I said, “I hadn’t thought about it but, wow that sounds like an interesting idea.”
Then talks began and our board of directors, who at the time were only national people; California, Florida, and Connecticut came and took a really close look and we were, you know, pitched by Las Vegas, and Palm Beach as well, and they thought that Carmel was the place to be. The timing of it was just perfect. The Center had just broken ground, so for us and for them it all made sense. Then, this past summer, we completely merged with the Center for the Performing Arts, so we are an arm of the Center now.
Ok, but you’re still your own separate 501(c)3?
We’re still our own separate 501(c)3 because our mission is a little bit different from the Center’s. We have a national focus. We do things all over the country, so we thought it made sense to keep that piece separate.
So you say you’re an arm. Does that mean that you’re more than just a tenant?
Yes. We are more than a tenant.
We are an integrated part of the center in the sense that we have the use of the staff of the center and also computers, bookkeeping and PR and all these things. The assets which we never had before, in terms of people, are available to us Whenever I wanted to do anything, I had to go out and hire someone individually, so from an efficiency standpoint it made a lot of sense to utilize staffing right here in the building or across the street.
The other part of it is that we wanted to more fully integrate the Great American Songbook concept into what was happening at the Center. The Palladium already had the Great American Songbook series as part of its programming. Michael’s the artistic director. It makes sense to us to utilize the performance venue and the programming to emphasize what we’re doing on the preservation side.
Was the establishment of the foundation the impetus for the leadership to then approach Michael about being the artistic director?
Yes, exactly. The foundation came first. One of the reasons that we chose the Center for the Performing Arts instead of just a stand-alone building was because this is about music, and we wanted to be connected to a performance venue. And of course, with all three venues – this was a great place to hear the Great American Songbook.That was one of the reasons behind coming here.
After several months of working on those concepts, the leadership here at the center, including the mayor, said, “Michael Feinstein could be a much more integral part of that messaging and programming.”
Michael’s desire, and we talked about this many times, was to be in on the ground floor of creating a programming variety that was different and unique than anywhere else. And that Great American Songbook component that was already starting to be established here through the foundation just made perfect sense.The stars aligned just right for all of those pieces to come together.
It sounds serendipitous.
It is. Absolutely serendipitous on so many levels, but again, opportunities arise and you have to be ready to seize them and run with them. That has happened several times, and the right people have been looking at it.
Do you believe in destiny?
I believe that good things and the right things happen for the right reasons. I also believe in luck, because just having the right people, in the right place, in the right room with the right conversation can lead to something that’s really brilliant. And you couldn’t sit down, if four people were in a room five years ago, sitting around a table brainstorming about how they wanted this to look. They never would have been able to come up with this formula quite this way, and have it work as well as it does.
What is the same or what is different from what you were doing previous to this?
Well in some ways the management side of things is the same. My political world and both at the state and at the county, I had employees I had to manage to make sure that projects were done. There was a media component to it, of course. This is a little bit different, in that there needs to be more creativity in looking forward in terms of programming and how are we going to make the Great American Songbook something that 16-year-old kids want to listen to.
The creative part, that’s the fun part. I didn’t get to go to good, fun concerts when I was the clerk all the time. So that part is different, but you know the basic management skills is the same thing. We’re growing rapidly. There’s even a fundraising component, of course, with a non-profit that politicians share, fundraising for their campaigns.
You know how to raise money.
I think so. Yes, well I had to do it before, and we have to do it here.
What are politics, really, but relationships?
Do you have a good instinct?
I do have a good instinct. I also have the ability to listen to people and know where they’re coming from and what motivates them to participate. And once you understand that about people, you can make the argument to them that’s it’s a good thing to participate in something. So it’s instinct, it’s listening and all those things combined. I think I’m good at that.
Tell me about how your love for music developed.
I think the music started like, and I’ve heard this from many of young women, Turner Movie Classics. When cable came out and Ted Turner started replaying all those wonderful musicals, because little girls love to watch beautiful women in beautiful gowns, and then the music is just part of it.
I’ve met many women who say that was the first place they started listening to this music. Then as I got older and a little more sophisticated, I reached out. I still have a collection of CDs from Time-Life. It was the great composers, and they were two-disc sets of each composer. It was one of those month-to-month clubs. And I got to hear many of the original singers performing Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer tunes, and I just loved it. There is nothing I would prefer listening to more. So, meeting up with Michael Feinstein, who I became aware of through my interest in this kind of music, was just a natural thing.
Did you play an instrument, or were you in the chorus or theater in school?
Well, I sang in the choir at church, and I played the piano some. I’m certainly not going to help him out there tune the piano but, you know, like many people I always had the piano lessons, and your parents encourage you in music a little bit, knowing that I would never do it as a career, but it creates that enjoyment.
So what is it about the Great American Songbook that draws you to it?
The melody and the lyrics. The melody draws you in and the lyrics hook you when you start to hear them. What I’d like to say about the Great American Songbook is that it’s unique. The same song with the same melody and lyrics can be interpreted in a dozen different ways by artists from more of a classical, operatic style to a bluesy jazz with a down tempo.
You don’t have, unlike modern pop music where if The Beatles aren’t singing that song it doesn’t sound quite right or the same would be true with someone like – say John Mellencamp. How many people have re-interpreted Frank Sinatra’s classics that he’s known for? And they’re just as good, and in some cases even better. That’s what’s so magical about the Songbook, and that’s what really does keep it alive.
Does the music also have an emotional quality that modern music doesn’t?
I think that even the sadder songs are uplifting in a way. And I think, as you say, an emotional quality may be part of it. That melody that you can hang onto and hum in the shower is an important component. The other thing is that the lyrics that were written were so much more sophisticated in a way that is not base. I mean even the mildly raunchy songs my daughter can listen to, because it was all about double entendre.
Like a lot of Cole Porter stuff.
Yes, a lot of Cole Porter stuff. Her favorite song is “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” because she’s thinking about her daddy, not a sugar daddy.
Back then, they couldn’t say it but they could certainly imply it.
And everybody was cool. Everybody knew exactly what was being said.
Yes.Then you also look at just the story that the lyrics tell themselves. I think we’re completely missing that in American popular music today. The lyric writing is so simplistic that it doesn’t keep you there. Once you’ve heard it once, there’s nothing to think about and explore later on. So there are several things, and I go back to what you said about it being emotional. It’s when you’re driving along in a car and you’re listening to one of these songs, you don’t feel badly when you get done listening to it. I think there are some angst-ridden songs that are produced today that when you get out you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I just want to go to bed. I can’t take it anymore.”
At some point, did you share your passion about this music to Michael and Terrence?
I suppose I did. It came across. I remember the first time I ever heard Michael sing live it was at the Indiana Roof at a Little Red Door fundraiser that he had done. And I remember writing him a note afterwards. We’d had dinner with Terrence and his friend Mary Jo Pennington. I remember writing a note to him because some of the songs that he sang I’d never heard live. We just don’t have that opportunity very much anymore. I was so bowled over by that. So maybe I did convey that.
What’s it like working with Michael?
Michael is thoughtful, generous and kind. And he is a perfectionist. He always challenges us to do better at what we do, and does that through example. It is a pleasure working with him.
Is Terrence also involved with the foundation?
Terrence is very involved and brings more of a creative business mind to the foundation. He is always thinking of ways to make our outreach bigger and better.
Describe this journey you’ve been on, in terms of ease.
It has not been an easy journey. It’s been a huge challenge. But not an unpleasant one. I don’t want to make it to sound like that. But whenever you start any new thing from scratch it can be daunting.
Had you ever been involved in a start-up during in your career?
No. I’m a lawyer by training, so the legal side, the legal documents and all that were pretty easy. But when you’re out there in the world telling someone that you want to do something, and you don’t have any track record. I’m not talking about me personally. I’m talking about our foundation. We’re saying we’re going to do a high school vocal competition, and we’ve never done one, and so we’re asking a person to take our word for it that we’re going to produce something that is worth donating money to support.
But you’ve got Michael’s name. That obviously makes a difference.
Michael’s name brought us very far along. In fact, when we were starting it up, Michael was really reluctant to put his name on it, not because he was afraid it would end up negatively, but he’s truly a modest person, and he said, “It’s not my songbook, it’s the world’s songbook.” And I fought him very strongly. I said, “Michael, your name lends credibility to this organization, and that’s extremely important.”
I’m sure you had to explain to him why donors would respond.
Right – both donors of money and donors of collections.
Not to mention the press – which you needed to get the word out.
It’s like a little train starting, and at first you’re slow and then you start building momentum. Now we’re at this stage that we’re on the cusp of really, really big things. We’re out of space from our collection already. And those are coming from people, not just Michael. I harp on this, partly because I think it’s so extraordinary. People from all over the country, collectors, are giving us and entrusting their collections to us here in central Indiana, and as word spreads, like with Bob Grimes. He entrusted his sheet music collection to us. Wow, they must know what they’re doing, and they must be good.
I notice that you are running out of space for the collection, but I take it you just couldn’t “build and they will come” when this all started?
We were in no financial position to build anything at that point.We had eight boxes of stuff at the beginning, and it would have been kind of ridiculous for me to go and say, “Let’s build a 30,000-square-foot space.”
A space like the Indiana Historical Society?
Right, and that’s why the timing with this was so good, because they have this space up here on the gallery level that was not being used. They were intending originally, I think, to lease it out to like a bank, or something along those lines. So for us to have this space made available to us so early. Moving here in January was a godsend. We otherwise would still be in storage facilities.
Originally we thought before we connected with the Center – well you know maybe in 10 years we’ll start a capital campaign and we’ll try to raise enough money to build our own building, and before that maybe we’ll rent some space somewhere. We haven’t had to do any of that. We’ve bypassed that piece of it. On one hand, we’re still small and we’re running out of space, but I think now we can demonstrate physically our need for a larger building. And I’m hoping that yet in three or four years here we can build a stand-alone museum here on this campus.
Seems like that would be a no-brainer.
Are you getting calls from people, especially since Michael’s documentary (Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three-part PBS series) saying “We want to give you our collection”?
Yes. It’s been kind of a catch-22. We’ve got some calls from folks who have really important things for the archive, and of course we also get calls from people who want to give us one or two pieces of sheet music. For a while there after the documentary we couldn’t keep up with handling the calls.
And our struggle and our challenge is that we really don’t want to say no to anyone, but we also need to approach this in an academic, a true archival way of building the collection, so that it’s truly unique and useful for musicians and for researchers. We don’t want to just be a warehouse collection of everything that’s out there. So we’ve really been trying to tailor to make the archives deep and important and unique. We’re not the only people who have some of this stuff. The Library of Congress has quite a bit of it.
Are you competing with them?
We’re not competing with them. We don’t want to duplicate, necessarily, certain things. Not that we don’t have overlap, but our goal is not to duplicate what they’re doing. What makes us really unique is that we will make it available more easily and more readily than the Library of Congress can. Of course, the Library of Congress takes everything. I mean, it’s responsible for all of America’s historical documents.
But you’re being more strategic.
And we have the luxury of only having to focus on the Great American Songbook. It’s really remarkable that some of these things are out there.
Tell me about the programming you have planned.
We have a very small exhibit space right now, which is another reason to have a building: to be able to start showing off the collection more. But our exhibit is going to be changing. The first exhibit we opened when the Palladium itself opened in January was just a generalized exhibit of what is the Great American Songbook.
We’ll be changing that exhibit about every six months or so and to that end, because we were thinking about what we had in our collection that we could really showcase into a story about cultural impact. And we have the wonderful Andrews Sisters collection from Bob Boyer in our collection. It seemed to make sense to maybe do a WWII exhibit. So many people remember their grandparents listening to that music.
As the idea was developing, I sent to get permission for a photograph to be published in On Patrol magazine; it’s a USO magazine that goes to all troops. And they had just sent me a copy of it with the picture and a little note thanking me for helping them out. I thought why not, I mean you can’t talk about this music and WWII without talking about the USO, so why not do a joint event benefiting the USO and the Feinstein Foundation and highlight the USO in the event, or the exhibit?
Then that thought led to, “Wait a minute, I’ve met Linda Hope, Bob Hope’s daughter, several times through Michael and Terrence. She’s a friend of theirs. I wonder if she’d come and cut the ribbon.” And sure enough, she agreed to do that. So you know how ideas progress and you build, and so we’re going to recreate a USO camp.
So what’s next after that?
Well, we’re gearing up for the vocal competition. You know, we took a hiatus this summer. We’re expanding it next summer. As you may remember, we just stayed in the Midwest last year, seven states, and now we’re going to be adding Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New York, which is a big deal. The major difference is that we’re going to select kids through a regional pre-competition. We wanted to touch more kids than just the 10 that were selected to come here. And so what we’re going to do is work with our partners in these regions and put on a mini academy for 10 kids – coaching and so forth. Then we’ll select two kids from each of those regions to come to the final three days here.
Where will the competition take place?
The competition itself will be here. The final competition will be here, probably in the Tarkington, the 500-seat. We’re just starting our talk. We’d like to affiliate with the University of Indianapolis. Last year they were fantastic. We’re hoping that our timing works out with their timing this year for the kids to utilize the rehearsal rooms and the dorms and all that, because we don’t have that available up here.
All of this is important to your mission obviously, the educational program. Would you say it’s as important as the collection, that promoting the music to a new generation?
Right, it’s a two-prong mission. The collection, the materials itself, which is kind of a historical look back and then the education, which is forward-looking. This music will die, no matter how much paper and audio we save, if people don’t want to listen to it and perform it. And so that’s the forward part of it.
All of that is supported by donations and contributions?
That’s right. We’ve been completely private, privately funded. It’s tough in this economy, as you can well imagine. We’re not curing cancer; we’re teaching kids about music. But we’ve got a lot of music lovers and a lot of people who believe that this major piece of American culture is important enough to save and keep alive. So we’re doing pretty well. We’re going to bump up our fundraising effort, now that we have our home open, and we’re getting a lot more national.
In terms of fundraising, it goes without saying that Michael’s contacts must be vast. Aren’t a lot of his fan base Hollywood and Broadway people?
Well my husband calls him a “celebrity’s celebrity” because they all love to listen to him and he’s such a nice person. They want to be around him and support what he’s doing.
Does Michael promote the foundation during his appearances?
We’re working with Michael to figure out how best for him to promote these things in what he’s already doing. You know, like in his club in New York, Feinstein’s at the Regency, we’ve created a little table card that says, “If you love this music as much as Michael Feinstein does, please support his foundation.” It’s something that is not too obtrusive to people.
And we’re really working with the staff now that we’ve got people to work with at the center, from public relations and marketing standpoint, to make sure that we utilize these opportunities like the PBS show (Michael Feinstein:The Sinatra Legacy) and Tony Bennett, who appeared here and whose audience is our audience. We need to make people aware of what we’re doing. We need to get better at that. We’ve just been limited in trying to get everything open, staffing-wise.
Well, it sounds to me, when we talked about relationships and connections, the potential here is limitless.
It sounds like it’s just a matter of meeting the demand.
You know, I did everything by myself for the first 3½ years. I’d have a contractor here or there in the vocal competition, and we hired an archivist, Lisa Lobdell, who is fantastic. And then she’s really been able to take over that piece of it, where before obviously my background is not in library sciences and archiving. And now, to have someone on staff from a vocal competition, and then to be able to utilize the center’s staff that’s already in place, boy, it just has ratcheted everything up in the last couple of months.
What would you say your administrative priorities are?
Fundraising is always going to be a priority for us. We have a new board of directors coming online because of how our merger has developed, and we have a new board chairman who is very young and dynamic. Working with him and Frank Basile, the center’s interim CEO – we had a long conversation yesterday about fundraising and really letting people better know what we’re doing up here. So that’s probably No.1.
Number two is giving both Chris Lewis, our other employee and Lisa the tools they need to run with both of those programming arms; Lisa on the archiving side and Chris on the education side. So the next step is going to be those preliminary discussions about, “How do we go about building a building?” You know, it takes a lot of money.
Any chance you’ll do a Hollywood fundraiser at some point? Or New York?
Absolutely. We want to do one in Palm Beach and one in New York. Those are natural places for Michael. Of course, he’s got Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency in New York. Everybody in New York knows who he is. And in Palm Beach he does an annual show at the Kravis Center that is always a sellout, and he’s very popular there. So those are places that are natural for us to go. But we have to sell incentives to them – that this is not just an Indiana thing.
You’re headquartered here.
We’re headquartered here. We have beautiful offices here. This will be the center archive place, but we have a natural reach across the country, and in Florida and in New York. And that is what they’re giving their money to support.
Well that sounds to me like that’s probably something that you all pay attention to – branding.
That’s part of your branding, that we’re a national outfit.
And that’s what you just said. It’s not just Indiana.
Has what you’re doing here really sunk in with local and statewide residents?
No, I don’t think they quite realize it yet. I think they started to realize it with Michael’s documentary, and they were watching it like, “Wow.” But we have to do a better job of letting Indiana know what a major national gem this is. Lisa and I are heading over at the end of September to visit the newly opened archive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And that gives you some idea, I mean, everybody knows about it. And though we’ll probably never be as big as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we have a similar concept and mission. And eventually, that’s what we will be here. We will be the repository of all of this amazing, amazing music. And it’s a big deal.
You wear two hats. You are also the board chair for the Cabaret at the Columbia Club. How do you balance your involvement there with your work here at the foundation?
Well, I’ll first say, the cabaret is in such good shape. Shannon Forsell (managing and artistic director) has just turned that thing around so beautifully that being board chair at the cabaret is a very easy job. And furthermore, it’s a very pleasurable job. Shannon is a dear friend. It’s actually been good for both of our organizations because we do have a connection with that style of music. Now, my favorite element of the Great American Songbook is the cabaret side. That’s what floats my boat the most. And so it’s just a natural fit for us to work together on some things. So far, it’s worked out beautifully. You know, Michael and Terrence went down to the cabaret and watched Billy Stritch’s show with Shannon.
It was a special night indeed.
Yes, and that room is so beautiful. I mean, what a great place for a cabaret. I will say that the cabaret is going so well that it’s not a lot of work. It’s more fun than work.
You have great connections, but doesn’t Shannon as well?
Shannon has her own connections. We make a good team in terms of trying to present to potential funders and grant makers. The cabaret is going through a strategic planning process right now. Now that things have settled into a really good business model that is selling out tickets and people are really responding to, the question becomes, “What do we do next? Do we try to bring in more national acts? Do we try to develop a more local-oriented show?”
Those are the exercises that we’re going through right now, and the best part about that is it’s all forward-looking, because all the financial issues the cabaret went through when it changed over from the big-show model to this New York-style cabaret model have all been eliminated. We’re in the black now. We still need money. We still just like any arts organization, our ticket sales don’t cover the cost of producing all of this, but it’s a forward-looking process right now.
Is there a buzz about the cabaret around the country? Have those entertainers who’ve been here talked it up?
Absolutely. That’s happening in New York, and what Shannon has done so successfully, and part of it is because of the room and the quality of the experience people have there. It’s not a first-class experience because the cabaret is spending so much money on them; it’s the personal attention, the professionalism and what they need for their performance. These performers are now saying, “We want to go to Indianapolis.”
G.I. Jive:The Music and Entertainers of World War IIwill launch with a special opening celebration and fundraiser benefiting the foundation and the Indiana chapter of the USO.
Entertainment in the Palladium upper south lobby (transformed into a canteen) will include Actors Theatre of Indiana performing songs of the Andrews Sisters, a Jack Benny impersonator, rare USO film footage, re-enactors and vintage military vehicles on display.
Tickets for the Oct. 2 (3-5 p.m.) opening are $100 and are available by calling (317) 843-3800 or online at www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.