Long Island is home to many legends in the music business: Pat Benatar, Tony Bennett and Louis Armstrong to name a few. But one of LI’s most famed and acclaimed sons to read sheet music is the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel. Raised in Hicksville, Joel is the sixth best-selling solo artist in music history (over 100 million albums sold worldwide) along with winning six Grammy awards and, more recently, being honored at the Kennedy Center. Joel also seems to always remember where he came from and still wants to contribute to the musical development of young college students. Joel showcased his generosity toward SBU recently with the donation of a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand Piano reportedly worth $250,000. The piano, currently housed in the Staller Center Recital Hall, was provided by The Joel Foundation as part of goal to provide for music students attending school on the East Coast. It certainly is an outstanding instrument, regardless of the piano’s donor. The black Bosendorfer has nine more keys than the average grand piano, allowing students and performers to expand whatever musical vision they have.
This is not the first time Joel has donated to Stony Brook. According to Perry Goldstein, a professor and the Chair of Stony Brook’s Department of Music, Joel had donated a Baldwin Grand Piano to the university years before. However, the recent donation from Joel started from a chance encounter back in August 2012. Joel was at an American Hotel in Sag Harbor when Goldstein noticed him sitting alone and decided to walk over and introduce himself. Now simply walking up to a music legend may seem intimidating on paper, but Goldstein had no problem engaging with the personable entertainer.
“I have great respect for him as a pop artist,” said Goldstein, who eased into conversation with the “approachable” and “very friendly” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. From there, Joel had nothing but nice things to say about Stony Brook Music. Goldstein said that Joel heard “excellent things” about SBU’s Department of Music and that he might have another piano to donate.
Joel came into contact with Katie Stockhammer, director of Development for the Arts and involved in Advancement for the Theatre Arts Department at Staller, and sounded interested in making a donation. Through The Joel Foundation, the new Bosendorfer arrived at Stony Brook on June 6 of this year and has resided in Staller ever since.
The piano has been in use since its arrival and has already helped create new pieces of audible art. “Tyler Wottrich, a pianist in the doctoral program in piano performance at Stony Brook, was the first to use the piano,” Goldstein said, “for a recording of the ‘Kegelstatt Trio’ by Mozart.” As far as future use, Goldstein notes that the piano will be used “primarily for concerts played by piano students, faculty, and guest artists at Stony Brook.”
For now, the musical hopefuls at SBU can work with this generous donation from one of Long Island’s most famous sons. It is unknown as to whether or not Joel has plans to donate more to SBU, but with two pristine pianos already given to the university, Joel’s music will most certainly be featured in Wolfie’s iPod soon enough.