Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00
Roslyn resident Michael Pollack has always been a Billy Joel fan. Pollack is also an accomplished musician. Now an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, Pollack, in 2007, played a live gig with Richie Cannata, Joel’s longtime saxophonist. So, it was inevitable that Pollack would someday play with the Piano Man as he has always considered Joel as the major inspiration for his own musical creativity.
The opportunity finally presented itself last month when Joel was giving a concert at Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium. It is Joel’s habit, when he plays in such a smaller setting, to conduct a question and answer period with audience members, some of whom are likely to be budding musicians themselves. Pollack and his friends knew this would happen at the Langford forum and so he was prepared. When it was his turn, Pollack asked Joel if he could play onstage with him. Such requests are familiar ones and Joel readily obliged. Pollack promptly made himself comfortable at the Piano Man’s piano and chose the Joel classic, “New York State of Mind” as the tune the two would perform. As Pollack broke into the opening chords of the familiar song, whoops and cheers could be heard from the audience, many of whom were Pollack’s friends.
“It was incredible,” Pollack said of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “When I found out he was coming to Vanderbilt, I came up with a plan with my roommate. I had seen how other kids had asked him questions.” Ready to do the same, Pollack, like an eager student, had his hand up the entire session until Joel recognized him and discovered he had come across not just a fellow New Yorker, but a huge fan of his work.
“I have been looking to do this since I started playing music,” Pollack continued. “It was a dream come true and in this case, I literally mean it.”
Pollack, as noted, is a freshman at Vanderbilt, the well-known liberal arts university. But it was not just academics that brought Pollack to Nashville. That city is famous worldwide as “Music City, U.S.A.,” and mostly as the capital of the country music industry. But the city is home to all kinds of music and that, too, has been a major attraction to the Roslyn native. “[Vanderbilt] has a great music program,” he said. “[The music] opportunity stands out. I’ve been to about 20 concerts since I’ve been here. It is an incredible opportunity to be around so much music.”
Thanks to modern technology, the duet was recorded on YouTube and at last count, had over 80,000 viewers. The performance also made it to Joel’s personal website, where one viewer described Pollack’s playing as “phenomenal.”
Pollack met Cannata at Cove City Sound Studio in Glen Cove, where both were recording. The young Pollack, then only 12 years old, impressed Cannata with renditions of Elton John’s “Your Song” and, of course, “New York State of Mind.” Cannata then invited Pollack to play with him at a live performance at the Cutting Room in Manhattan. That piece of good luck culminated with the duet at Vanderbilt, proving that for Pollack, the best is yet to come.