March 06, 2012 — Coral Gables — From discussing songwriting in the shower and even in his sleep to revealing the inspiration for his weekend anthem “You May Be Right” (“Ex number one”), Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Billy Joel perfectly melded his talents as musician and storyteller during a marathon Monday night show that few of the nearly 1,800 UM students in attendance are likely to forget anytime soon.
“Billy Joel: An Evening of Questions & Answers … and a Little Music” was presented by Hurricane Productions at BankUnited Center, offering undergraduates a complimentary ticket to interact with the Grammy Legend Award winner.
Joel walked on a stage that was flanked by what he described as a “big piano and a piano with pianist envy.” His opening joke set the course for what would be a two-hour, fifteen-minute frank and freewheeling dialogue with his student audience, interspersed with renditions from his expansive songbook that includes 33 Top 40 hits and 23 Grammy nominations (six wins).
Asking for the house lights, the 62-year-old announced to his packed audience: “You guys are young—and skinny!” He used a lighted pointer to select from a sea of raised hands that he referred to as a “laser thing that might sterilize you or set you on fire.”
The prolific songwriter (“New York State of Mind," “Just the Way You Are," “Uptown Girl”) took questions at random, even calling a couple of audience members up to sing with him, apparently the reason for the giant Zildjian gong also on stage.
The first duet, “Summer, Highland Falls,” caused Joel to quip good-naturedly that the next one up better be able to sing. The student who took that challenge didn’t disappoint. “This is dedicated to President Shalala,” said student Andrew DeMuro, of New Jersey, before launching into a spirited “Only the Good Die Young,” accompanied by Joel.
Joel has been doing these kinds of forums at colleges for two decades as a way to give back to aspiring musicians. “When I was starting out there was no reference for me to research how to do my job,” he said in an interview earlier in the day. “I was stumbling along. I wanted to be able to help people keep from making mistakes I made. I have all this information about how to do the job that I don’t get asked about by media that much. I always wanted to be a teacher so this is my way of doing it.”
Joel shared educational and entertaining anecdotes about many of his memorable tunes, including “Allentown,” The Downeaster Alexa,” “The River of Dreams,” “Vienna,” “Miami 2017,” “New York State of Mind,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” and “Piano Man,” while hopping back and forth between the two pianos and microphone center stage to run down versions of them.
Joel’s passion for music education inspired him to launch in 2005 an ongoing educational initiative to provide seed money, musical scholarships, and endowments to a variety of East Coast colleges, universities, and music schools.
Asked if he’d consider teaching at UM, the man who has sold more than 100 million records and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame two decades ago—also a Miami Beach part-time resident—answered, “I would consider it. If I thought it would do some good, sure.”
UM School of Communication student Allison Novack, Hurricane Productions vice chair for campus relations, said the evening “was an unbelievable experience for us UM students to see such a classic and legendary musician perform exclusively to us, on our very own campus. The audience was able to interact with Billy on such an interpersonal level; singing and performing along with him, instead of just watching him sing and perform to us.”
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