Tag Archives: Billy Joel

Josh Duchan’s River Of Dreams

Josh Duchan grew up in Westport. But, he says, “as the son of 2 New Yorkers, Billy Joel was the soundtrack of my childhood.”

Records filled the Duchans’ High Point Road home. Cassettes played on the radio, as Josh was shuttled between activities.

Duchan took piano lessons. He discovered that rather than looking at every note, he could read guitar chords and “fake it.” He bought scores to Billy Joel songs, and learned to play and sing along.

Duchan was a talented musician at Long Lots Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools. He played Will Parker in Staples Players’ “Oklahoma!”, then wrote the score and conducted the pit for their production of “The Tempest.”

Staples teacher Alice Lipson cultivated Duchan’s love for choral music. Her theory classes showed him “the amazing ways music really works.”

Private instructor Bill Hall shaped Duchan’s tenor voice. Billy Joel is a tenor too. If you think Duchan was a fan of the singer/songwriter then — read on for today.

Josh Duchan

Duchan graduated from Staples in 1997. After majoring in music at the University of Pennsylvania, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan. He loved studying the intersection of music and culture. Mozart fascinated him; so did Native American and South African music.

But when his first major paper was assigned, Duchan nervously pitched the idea of … Billy Joel.

His master’s thesis was not on Billy Joel. But, Duchan notes, “I used him for just about every example of musical meaning.”

His doctoral dissertation was about a cappella groups. His research led to Duchan’s first book, “Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella.”

Now he’s written a second. If you can’t guess the subject, I guess that’s just the way you are.

The idea for “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man” began in 2013, when Duchan gave a presentation on you-know-who at a meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Two attendees were editors of a book series on 20th century musicians.

Four years later, “Billy Joel” has just been published. If you think it’s worth reading: You may be right.

Duchan says, “Billy Joel was not just the soundtrack of my childhood. He was the soundtrack to many people’s lives.”

The singer/songwriter’s music offers “a window into what people cared, thought and worried about” from the 1970s through the ’90s, Duchan says.

On the surface, for example, “Allentown” is about a struggling city. But it represents major changes in American manufacturing, and difficult decisions about staying in your hometown, or leaving. Duchan puts that song — and many others — in the context of how it was written, and why it appealed.

The book is not a biography (several have already been written). Instead, Duchan examines a selection of songs — some mega-hits, many not — in a series of themed chapters. Songs about places, for example, cover Joel’s well-known home (“New York State of Mind”), as well as Los Angeles (where he once lived) and the familiar concept of suburbia.

Other chapters cover topics like relationships and history (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”).

“Billy Joel” is also not a book filled with technical music jargon. Duchan aims for a general readership.

Billy Joel

The book’s subject loves the project. Duchan — who has seen Joel in concert a few times — scheduled an hour phone interview in September. The more insightful Duchan’s questions became, the more enthusiastic Joel got. He had not had many opportunities to think — and speak — so introspectively about his music.

Duchan had to hang up to teach a class — his day job is professor of music history, ethnomusicology and pop culture at Wayne State University in Detroit — but they agreed to meet in person.

Duchan wanted it to be in a place with a piano. A month later, he flew to Joel’s home near Oyster Bay.

Their scheduled hour interview turned into 4 hours (including lunch in his kitchen). Joel played classical music as well as his own songs, explaining melodies and chords along the way.

Joel then added a coda: A great blurb for the back cover.

Library Journal gave it a very positive review (“must-read analysis”).

Now Duchan is planning his next project: the same sort of how/why deep dive into creativity, with another popular composer. His sights are set on James Taylor.

But right now, Josh Duchan is enjoying his Billy Joel moment.

And so it goes.

Alex Freedman Remembers Phil Ramone

Alex Freedman is an exceptionally bright, very talented man.

He was the 1996 Staples High School salutatorian.

Alex Freedman

Alex Freedman

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, then joined Advantage Testing. He’s now one of New York City’s — and Westport’s — most sought-after tutors, assisting the best and soon-to-be-brightest students on everything from the SAT, ACT, ISEE and SSAT to GMAT, GRE, LSAT and WTF (jk).

An outstanding classical and jazz pianist, Alex has worked with Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb — and Phil Ramone. The famed record producer and engineer — winner of 14 Grammy Awards and responsible, in large part, for the success of Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Chicago — died last weekend, at 79.

Alex sent along these thoughts:

Phil was a universally venerated class act, an epically successful musical impresario whose projects ranged from music (with countless genres and artists) to movies, Broadway, television and beyond. His talents were breathtaking.

Phil always had a retinue of advisors, assistants, producers and managers, and for a time I was extraordinarily fortunate to be a member of that inner circle. From our home base at his barn and studio in Bedford, NY, we would discuss the projects of the day. There were always too many for a mere mortal to handle, yet somehow Phil was assiduous about giving each his full attention.

Phil Ramone (Courtesy PhilRamone.com)

Phil Ramone (Courtesy PhilRamone.com)

I remember fondly my days with Phil: helping backstage at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremonies, working tirelessly at the studio to finesse every last detail of a sure-to-be platinum album; rehearsing dance steps with Kevin Spacey for an upcoming movie.

Phil would ask me to find “great songs” from the ’60s and ’70s that few would know well, so a famous actor and Broadway musician could put them on an upcoming album.  I spent nights at Tower Records (people still bought CDs in those days) researching the best albums of the day, listening for the B-side gems we could use. (And I thought all-nighters were for college!)

Or, “here’s a Broadway script for an upcoming hit musical, except right now it’s just a play and we need to make it into a musical. Alex, can you read the script and pitch me on where we should add the musical numbers?”

Through my relationship and friendship with Phil, I learned the value of an unbelievably conscientious work ethic (he never stopped working, planning, thinking or doing even when having his hair cut, driving or eating breakfast); what it means to truly love one’s job, and how best to tell Stevie Wonder to pose for a photograph (hint: don’t tell him to look at the camera).

Phil Ramone 2I suppose that when your life is as immersed in music as Phil’s was, it’s difficult to have a bad day. Though he was an ardent perfectionist who would not tolerate mediocrity, his warmth and enthusiasm were infectious, permeating everything he did.

The next time you listen to “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Just the Way You Are,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” “My Life,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (or about a billion other songs), think about the man behind the scenes helping massage that song to its ultimate fruition.

Phil will always be considered a gem. He will be missed by the countless individuals whose lives he has touched, whether directly or indirectly through the music and memories he has created. I’m happy to have had a chance to know the man behind the music, and I carry his passion and quest for perfection with me every day.

Ethan And Billy Joel Go Viral

Ethan is a 6-year-old kindergartner in the Westport Public Schools.

He’s on the autism spectrum, as a very high functioning child.

He’s also a very talented musician. After hearing a song 2 or 3 times — pop, classical, whatever — he plays it perfectly on the piano. It’s a full mind and body experience for him — he’s totally into each piece.

Recently, his mother Allison — who, with her husband Michael, is the top fundraiser in Fairfield and Westchester Counties for Autism Speaks — filmed a video of Ethan playing piano, and singing, “Piano Man.”

Ethan’s speech teacher, Shari Goldstein, uploaded it to YouTube. Shari’s friend saw it and sent it along to Reddit. They put it on their “Featured Videos” page.

In less than 2 days, it’s gotten over 55,000 views. Over 300 people have posted great comments.

Ethan loves audiences as much as he loves music. Last year he performed in front of a huge crowd at an Autism Speaks benefit.

But that was nothing compared to this.

Today, Ethan has an international audience.

And it grows every minute.

(To make a pledge toWalk Now for Autism Speaks on Ethan’s behalf, click here.)