By Mark Frauenfelder at 9:30 am Tue, Mar 12, 2013
College student asks if he can play piano for Billy Joel and Joel says OK. The results are fabulous!
So awesome! Except get that kid a real piano, okay?
This is fantastic! Watching moments like this reminds me that there’s no shame in taking risks.
Ahhh. . . if only that kid had launched into “Brain Invasion”, also written by (a much younger, hairier) Billy Joel.
That was high praise from Billy Joel.
indeed – i have always heard that billy joel is kind of standoffish and rude, and he was a bit brusque about it, but he really comes off looking like a champ here — and that kid really IS amazing.
Kid’s got some talent. Which I would think explains his surpising-at-a-glance confidence in asking.
Which in turn, I think speaks volumes about the state of music in our culture. Not enough people play, and those who do are set atop pedestals where they seem immense and unapproachable. It’s refreshing to see one of the “giants” revealed to be a human, like the rest of us, despite his never trying to appear otherwise.
But isn’t it odd that we do this? Isn’t it odd that music, the great communal art, has become so stratified?
Would this have happened in a different setting? If the speaker was instead Yo-Yo Ma, or some other similar figure of classical music, reared and trained and shaped in that bizarre social strata of black ties and conspicuous wealth and influence, instead of a man who got his start in New York playing Beatles-inspired pop music in no-name bands?
I have the greatest admiration for musicians – and the genres and subcultures they belong to – which not only share their music with an audience, but who also share in the making of it with other musicians. I could easily see Steve Martin doing this sort of thing, coming as he does from the culture of bluegrass. I could likewise see Victor Borge – the man who so lovingly gave classical music giant, repeated, chastizing kicks in the arse in the name of humor and humility – happily accepting such a request. And I wish I could bring others to mind who would also do the same, but sadly they escape me at the moment, if indeed they are even there for me to recall.
You think classical musicians are wealthy?
They’re surrounded by the culture of wealth, more than they themselves are terribly wealthy. They cater primarily to the rich social elite, and the culture of classical music is therefor suffused with the values and behaviors of its patrons.
Theres a lovely video on the internet of a similiar impropmtu jam session between Dave Brubeck and a young russian violinist (where the violinist has the guts to interrupt in the middle of the song). You can see the pure musical joy in both of their faces when they continue playing along together.
Our culture may hold musicians on a pedestal, but many of the most famous musicians in the world LOVE jamming with students and inspiring young people to develop their talents.
Yo-Yo Ma is actually a great example of somebody doing it right. My sister was at a post-concert reception when she was maybe 11 or 12 years old and just starting out on the cello. The second Ma learned that she was a budding cellist, he dropped everything, brought out his (multi-million-dollar) instrument and offered it to her to play. My sister may have been privileged enough to be at a post-concert reception with Yo-Yo Ma in the first place, but I’ve heard stories of him doing similar things at schools and community centers all across the country. He’s definitely not someone who confines himself to fuddy duddy concert halls.
Another example from personal experience was the late Max Roach. In college we had a professor of jazz history who would invite players to campus each year for an informal talk/demonstration/conversation about music–probably a lot like what was happening in this Billy Joel video. As folks were leaving at the end of Roach’s visit, he wandered over to a piano and plucked out a few chords. Roach asked if anybody in the room played piano, and showed a kid the chord progression. Then he asked if anybody had a horn. A friend of mine ran back to his dorm room to get his trumpet, while Roach sat down at the drums, and Max Roach jammed with these two college students for about 20 minutes while a handful of us (including the professor) stood around smiling giant smiles until our faces hurt.
Perhaps Yo-Yo Ma is the exception, then. He does strike me as an upstanding person. I do have difficult thinking of other famous classical musicians who would do the same, however. (Aside from Mr. Borge, of course.)
Many world famous classical musicians have appeared on Sesame Street, including Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Renee Fleming, Joshua Bell and (of course) Yo-Yo Ma and Victor Borge.
Classical music certainly has its stuffy conventions, and both its culture of fierce competition and the generous patronage required to sustain it lend a certain aura of elitism. But many of the artists themselves are down-to-earth, hardworking people who really, really love music, and want to share it with the world, not just the handful of rich people whose names are engraved on the concert halls. I’m not sure where you get the idea that classical musicians want to isolate themselves from the unwashed masses.
Yo-yo Ma came to my college class (a large intro course, not even for music majors) to play a peace and give a lecture. Does that count?
A college student he may be, but that kid’s got serious chops. The flight time shows.
Has anyone got better hearing than mine? Did he say “Michael Pollock,” or “Michael Pollard”? I want to remember the name.
So cool! Chasing his dreams!
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