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#1169787 - 05/16/04 02:22 PM The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
Jazz+ Offline
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Registered: 05/15/04
Posts: 4506
I found this analysis of Billy Joel's piano style thru Google on pianorock.com
The site seems to be going offline so I reposted what I could here:
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KC Island
#1169788 - 05/16/04 02:23 PM Re: The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
Jazz+ Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 05/15/04
Posts: 4506
"Ziggysane
Piano What?
Joined: 22 Apr 2004
Posts: 10

Posted: Mon Apr 26, 2004 2:51 am Post subject: Billy's Piano Accompaniments

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K. First we have Mr. Joel. He tends to employ a variety of accompaniments in order to keep things fresh, unlike Elton who has a signature style that I’ll discuss later.
Billy usually sticks to eighth note subdivisions and block triads in the right hand and doubles the bass line in his left on his ballads and slower songs as well as some of his more driving midtempo stuff. Ex. Piano Man, Honesty, She's Got a Way, Movin Out, Allentown. On the latter two, this is pretty much his way of emulating a driving guitar. He employs sixteenth note fills on slower songs, usually unsyncopated pentatonic groups of four.
Those familiar with him will also know that Billy very seldom, if ever, plays solo. This is mostly due to the fact that most of his accompaniments are pretty "straight" and remain the same from verse to verse while those in the other category (his "arrangement" style which will be discussed next) usually have holes in them that need to be filled in by the rhythm section. Billy's solo style is actually embodied in his unaccompanied intros and verses to songs. Ex. Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, I've Loved These Days, New York State of Mind, Just the Way You are, Miami 2017. Again, mostly a simple tin-pan alley style in which the piano serves only as the rhythmic and harmonic skeleton to support the melody. Billy rarely plays in a Ray Charles sparse blues influenced style. (Lots of space, blues fills) At the moment, the only examples I can think of are New York State of Mind, Baby Grand, and 52nd Street.
Billy's faster songs employ either broken eighth (and occasionally sixteenth) note octaves or Broadway style pounding quarter notes in the left hand for momentum. The right hand again usually plays both on and off beat triads and octaves. Ex. My Life, Miami 2017, Pressure, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant ("Brenda and Eddie") and the bluesy rocking and rarely heard piano verse of the Entertainer (which was just published for the first time in the Signature Licks series.)
The last style is Billy's rhythm style in which he acts like a jazz pianist in a rhythm section and provides the color in an arrangement with octaves and various harmonic chordal tricks (hammer-ons, fills, ect.) While this style fills in the holes in an arrangement, it is usually not a complete part in itself, due to the fact that it is only meant to work within an ensemble and thus contains rhythmic gaps caused by a lack of drums and a usually underdeveloped left hand. Also, these parts are usually pretty random since they just add variety and while they sound cool, they usually don't contain many patterns from song to song because Billy tries to come up with a fairly unique and characteristic piano part for each song, and only come prominently out of the mix when filling in, making them a real bitch to transcribe. Ex. Goodnight Saigon, Los Angelenos, Ballad of Billy the Kid, Only the Good Die Young, River of Dreams, Storm Front, I Go to Extremes, Big Shot, Stiletto, Travellin Prayer, Uptown Girl, Tell Her About It, Somewhere Along the Line, and many many more.
There are exceptions to the above, particularly in some of Billy's early work. Falling of the Rain and Rosalinda (a lullaby written for his mother) are in a very very heavily arpeggiated and fast classical style that belies his 12 years of lessons and is reminiscent of an even faster Elton John. (He would later slow down and reprise this style with Summer Highland Falls.) Everybody Loves You Now has more guitar imitation, but this time with very quickly arpeggiated chords to emulate the individual strummed notes of a fast acoustic guitar (!!). Josephine features a boogie driven Jerry Lee Lewis pattern. The last style that I can think of is Billy playing a full piano arrangement that includes the melody in the right hand, which he does on “And So It Goes” and “Lullaby.” Since all of his compositions supposedly start out as classically oriented instrumental pieces, this gives a unique insight into his pre vocal/lyrics work.

First Time I tried to post it I lost the last half of it so now it’s saved and I hope it works. I’ll do one on billy’s soloing characteristics when I get a break from finals. "
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Roland FP-4 digital piano, 2 EV SXa-360 powered speakers (36 lbs each). Mason & Hamlin acoustic piano.

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#1169789 - 05/16/04 02:28 PM Re: The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
Jazz+ Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 05/15/04
Posts: 4506
More on Joel:

"It should be noted that there was a marked change in Billy’s piano sound during his collaboration with producer Phil Ramone on The Stranger. From the beginning, Billy has considered himself more a songwriter and performer than a pianist or singer and eventually intended to get away from the piano and keyboards other than as a writing tool and ballad instrument, and to move towards a more Beatles/Stones-esque pop sound. His being saddled with the title of “America’s Elton John” and “Piano Man” was a partial misconception that wasn’t helped by his early Elton-like sound and piano chops, and the popular hit of the same name. Thus, Phil Ramone partially fulfilled his wishes in focusing more on a guitar and band oriented sound with the piano filling in the mix for texture. On many rockers such as the main section of the Stranger, Only the Good Die Young, and Get It Right the First Time, the piano is not only played down, but nearly inaudible. As a result, most of the playful, bravura showboating of the first four albums was relegated to only a solo or two per album in favor of a driving collective groove, though the piano still dominates the ballads. This type of production continued into Glass Houses as well as Billy’s 80’s adult contemporary albums.
Billy’s biggest influences are the melodies of Tin Pan Alley and early Broadway musicals and the chorded, driving, two and four beat piano that supported them. Due to this, his rhythms and choice of harmonies are often more straight and unsyncopated than those of Elton John. He also contains liberal doses of thundering Beethoven, the laid back blues of Ray Charles, and the melodic sensibility of classically trained lounge pianists."
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Roland FP-4 digital piano, 2 EV SXa-360 powered speakers (36 lbs each). Mason & Hamlin acoustic piano.

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#1169790 - 05/16/04 02:33 PM Re: The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
Jazz+ Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 05/15/04
Posts: 4506
More on Joel:

"Part 2: Soloing

Mr. Joel’s repertoire of licks consists of lightning fast descending pentatonic runs, Ray Charles-esque blues licks, some borrowed classical melodies, and good old Jerry Lee Lewis rock n’ roll thrashing with an added pentatonic touch. Billy is like Elton John in that half of his solos are merely the cascading octaves and arpeggios he plays before and in between the vocals (though they’re relatively simple compared to those of Captain Fantastic, but hey, it’s all in the groove). Ex: Falling of the Rain, Summer Highland Falls, Angry Young Man, Everybody Loves You Now, She’s Always a Woman, Captain Jack, Stiletto, and all over the live renditions of Piano Man.
You want to see hear Billy show off some speed? Check out the cadenza-like interludes in the Ballad of Billy the Kid and Scenes From An Italian Restaurant for some blazingly clean 32nd note descending pentatonic runs. Or the bluegrass banjo to piano licks that he shows off in Travelin’ Prayer. Want some cool blues? Give the outro to the live cut of Only the Good Die Young from the SNL 25 album, the intro to New York State of Mind, Baby Grand, and 52nd Street for some laid back, tasty blues lines. The backing to the previously mentioned “Piano Verse” of The Entertainer is practically a blues solo with vocals over it. He’s also capable of some high speed melodic piano pounding. Billy’s first solo on record (that I know of) is the fiery boogie-woogie chorus that he unleashes during the instrumental break in the middle of the early rock n’ roll tribute “Josephine.” He also whips out two syncopated, melodic chord breaks in “I Go to Extremes” and “The River of Dreams.” His fills underneath guitar and sax breaks on tracks like Somewhere Along the Line, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant, Only the Good Die Young, and the live breakdown of The Stranger usually consist of pentatonics and fast, upper range glissandos and triplets. Billy’s mid concert instrumental showcase was formerly a propulsive composition entitled “Root Beer Rag” that features the piano as a solo instrument for the entire duration. Plus, Ben’s reading of “Misirlou” has definitely stolen a page or two from Billy’s machine gun fire intro to Prelude/Angry Young Man.
The following two solos deserve their own separate mention. For those who wish to experience the transcendently sublime, I recommend the following two live cuts. First, all live renditions of Piano Man (Nassau, Yankee Stadium, the Solo Version, and many others) feature wonderful solo breaks that blow the polite solo from the studio version away. Tasty solos and licks that can be played again and again, and are always by preceded by Billy briefly adding, “And I just say….” in reference to his ability to express himself by making the piano sing wordless lines of joy without words despite all the depression around him in the piano bar. The second is the piano solo that used to reside between the sax solo and final verse of New York State of Mind, in which Billy pulls all of the above tricks out of his bag for 32 seconds of absolute bliss. Sigh…okay I’m done now.
Billy’s solo chops are no longer in evident display these days, though I have no doubt that they’re probably still there. However, most of former piano showcases such as the Entertainer, Root Beer Rag, usually Ballad of Billy the Kid, Travelin’ Prayer, and the solo section of New York State of Mind have long since disappeared from his live repertoire. However (again), they are in full display on many of the live concert bootlegs from 70’s including the masterful Live At Nassau Coliseum 12/11/77 (The Stranger Tour), which is one of my favorite albums of all time. The entire outfit invigorates the set with a punk-like fever, because that’s what their high energy stage show essentially was in the world of rock and 70’s singer songwriter pop. Because they had only a decade of material to work with, Billy and the band tear through 26 sped up, breakneck versions of current and future hits including a rocking version of Piano Man that makes you think twice about its status as a ballad, and 8 of the 9 tracks from The Stranger (though concert pleasers such as My Life, Big Shot, and Allentown weren’t even written yet). Anyway, it’s a great snapshot of a master in his prime showing off some exhibitionist piano when he still felt that he had something to prove.

Again, I invite others to add their own comments/analyses on Billy or the other artists while I work on my Elton post. Enjoy! "
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Roland FP-4 digital piano, 2 EV SXa-360 powered speakers (36 lbs each). Mason & Hamlin acoustic piano.

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#1169791 - 05/16/04 02:49 PM Re: The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
shniggens Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 12/06/01
Posts: 3019
Loc: Denvoid, CO
Hey, cool analysis of Billy!

Does pianorock.com still exist? I get a fatal error when I try to get there. Fatal!?!?!?!
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#1169792 - 05/16/04 03:45 PM Re: The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
linwood Offline
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Registered: 09/11/00
Posts: 4765
Loc: Las Vegas,NV,UNITED STATES
I went to a rehearsal last Oct. and the band was Billy Joel, Elton John, David Foster each at their own pianos, not to mention in the backup band was Greg Philengaines. Anyway... Billy had broken his arm in a fall two days prior. He had this metal contraption going from his elbow to his wrist and it had screws going into the bone holding his shit together. I was surprised to even see him there. He still played the life out of the piano. I know I've gone to a gig with a cold or flu and once you start playing it just goes away, but this was above and beyond. He just rocked! A true pro.

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#1169793 - 05/24/04 12:51 AM Re: The characteristics of Billy Joel's Piano Style
sudeep Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 11/17/00
Posts: 463
Loc: London, UK
billy joel, elton john, david foster AND greg phillinganes!!!????

add in Chuck Leavell and Nicky Hopkins...and that sounds like a dream i had the other night...

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