Billy Joel: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
This week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia. (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!) Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!
My classical music training started at the piano, which I played under the brilliant tutelage of Betty Wertz Hines until I left home for college. “Know the classics and you can play anything” was her advice that I continue to learn from and pass on. While Scarlotti, Chopin, Schumann and Mozart filled my classical ears, I loved to listen to pop radio. In the era when popular music was beginning to morph from rock and roll to disco (which is the grandmother to techno—groovy dance music without a lot of depth), my favorite songs were the ones with stories. I had been influenced by that American songbook, but also by many of the folk acts of the 1960’s that my father really loved. The Kingston Trio, The Mamas and the Papas, the New Christy Minstrels—they were storytellers who sang.
All of this rolled together equals Billy Joel.
He is a fierce piano player; he is clearly influenced by classical, folk, rock and roots. He writes all his own songs and every one takes me on a journey through a story. The Stranger was the first album that I ever bought with my own money. While there are so many fantastic Billy Joel songs, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant could actually be a mini rock opera. The music tells you where you are in history and the instrumentation choices create the landscape. He has the band with the chops to make real. It is a story about things that we all know, or have experienced, or just want to be able to sing about, out loud, at the top of our lungs.