Mark Rivera will spend most of this summer playing saxophone in front of packed stadiums and arenas with Billy Joel, but that doesn't mean crowds don't make him nervous.
"It's actually more unnerving for me when I can see the very back of the room," said Rivera, who, after 32 years in Joel's band, is once again playing small clubs, as he rolls out his first solo album "Common Bond."
"In an arena, because of the lights, I can only see the first 20 rows. In a place like The Cutting Room , it's really intimate, but there's also no production to hide behind. You're right out there."
You've been working on music for a solo album since the '80s. Why did you decide to record one now?
Well, I had to work. (Laughs.) I raised two sons and put them through college . . . There was always another call for a gig, another 18-month tour with Billy. I was Ringo's [Starr] musical director for 18 years. It was all great, though. It's a Champagne problem -- which bottle do you open? Who's going to complain about that?
Your album includes appearances by Billy Joel, Ringo Starr, Robert Randolph, Steve Lukather, and Nils Lofgren. How did all that happen?
I'd never done a solo project, so I had never asked favors of people. I've always said, "You never use a trump card to beat a 4." For this, I asked my friends, and everyone came and said yes . . . I love what I do with Billy, but with this I feel like I was blossoming for the first time.
Any chance Billy might join your band sometime?
Well, he's always wanted to be part of a band. If he had his way, he'd be in a band like Traffic. He plays Hammond B3 organ on my song "Spanish Castle Magic." I think he'd really like to shock the heck out of people if I was playing somewhere like Stephen Talkhouse, which is right down the street from him. I'd be surprised if he didn't show up and play a few songs. He'd have a good time.
WHO Mark Rivera
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Friday night, The Cutting Room, 44 E. 32nd St., Manhattan
INFO $25; 212-691-1900, thecuttingroomnyc.com