Play It, Piano Kid!

Play It, Piano Kid! March 22, 2013

This story has been exploding all over the news for the past week or so, and I think it’ll warm the cockles of the hearts of any pianists among my readership.
First, the background: One of the nicer things about legendary rock musician Billy Joel is his passion for music education. For decades, he’s held seminars, master classes and Q & A sessions where he shares his personal knowledge and experience in a relaxed audience setting.
Recently, he visited Vanderbilt University, and one lucky college kid in the audience was itching for a chance to fulfill a life-long dream. His name is Michael Pollack, and ever since he took up piano, he’s aspired to play like Billy Joel. A Long Islander like Joel himself, Michael’s personal favorite is the classic Gerswhin-esque ode to his home state, “New York State of Mind.” He’d been playing it for years but took some extra time to brush up on it before the session, just in case he got called on. When Joel saw several of Michael’s friends pointing to him with his hand in the air, he took Michael’s question. This was what followed.

(For those who might not catch Pollack’s phrasing because of the poor sound quality, he said that he’s played piano together with Billy Joel’s former saxophonist Richie Canatta. Proof that a little name-dropping never hurts!)

“What key do you do it in?” “What key do you want it in?” Classic! Good on Michael for having the courage to ask, and good on Joel for taking a chance on him. Together, they provided a fabulous moment. This performance actually took place in January, but the video was not put on Youtube until fairly recently, at which point it went viral. Michael seems like a really nice kid, and he was discovered by Canatta at a very young age as a talent to watch. Here is a Vanderbilt spotlight interview with him.

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  • Lydia McGrew

    What a great video. Great fun. Pollack’s off and running.
    Did he really say, “That’s how you get to be a hall player in New York”? It sounded just like “horn player.”

  • Yes, indeed!
    Actually, he did say “horn player,” and I still can’t figure out why. My best guess is that there had been a previous question from a horn player who was asking about how to break into the music scene, and Joel was referring back to it.

  • Looking at the video again, it seems like I’m right, since he seemed to be gesturing towards another person in the audience at that moment. “Take a chance!”