Billy Joel became the first nonclassical musician to be inducted into Steinway Hall today, as a painting of the Piano Man was unveiled at the Midtown Manhattan showroom.
Joel's portrait – painted by artist Paul Wyse, whose work is part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian – shows him in his Centre Island home next to his piano, wearing one of his favorite leather jackets.
“You know I found that jacket in a little shop in Miami Beach,” Joel said. “It was the first time I had gone shopping, without a girlfriend or a wife, for clothes. Guys, you know what I mean... I thought it looked cool. I wore it to a lot of different places and recently I was going to wear that jacket out to dinner with my girlfriend and she said, 'Are you going to wear that Members Only jacket?' I said, 'What's a Members Only jacket?' And she said, 'They went out in the '80s.'”
“So I'm glad you have my arms folded over the Members Only logo,” Joel told Wyse at the ceremony.
The permanent placement of Joel's portrait in the Steinway Hall gallery, which includes Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arthur Rubinstein,hasn't been chosen yet. But Monday it was hanging next to the great Vladimir Horowitz, one of Joel's idols, which thrilled him.
“I don't know how crazy he'd be about having me that close to him,” Joel said. “I ran into him once on the street, on Madison Avenue, back in the '70s... I saw Vladimir Horowitz walking across the street. I had long hair and a black leather jacket and I said, 'Maestro!' and he thought I was gonna mug him. He kinda ran away so this is the closest I've been to him since then.”
Joel said he is honored to be called a Steinway Artist and the company's local roots make the connection even more special. “Their factory is in Astoria, Queens,” Joel said. “They make pianos the old-fashioned way. They're not mass-produced. They're hand-crafted... When you find a great Steinway, it's a phenomenal piano. There's a quirkiness in individually produced pianos that I appreciate, sort of like handmade guitars.”
He seeks out that unique bond with his pianos, testing out many in the Steinway showroom to find the one that works best with a piece of music. (One of his classical pieces “Waltz No. 2” was subtitled “Steinway Hall” because he composed part of it on a piano in the showroom.)
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“Guitarists talk about their guitars like it's a woman... they talk about the wood and the shape,” Joel said. “It's the same thing with these pianos.”
Picture: Billy Joel and his portrait at its unveiling at Steinway Hall, in Manhattan.