Billy Joel was doing one of his Questions-And-Answers evenings at Vanderbilt University when a student named Michael Pollack — a fellow Long Islander — asked if he could accompany Joel on “New York State Of Mind.” Joel said yes, so here they are…
Before getting onstage, Pollack mentioned having played a few times with Richie Cannata, who was Joel’s saxophone player from 1976 to 1981, but contrary to some online reports, this was not a setup.
Here’s how Pollack described the experience to the Vanderbilt student newspaper:
I decided I was gonna go see Billy Joel right when we found out he was coming, and as a childhood idol of mine, right away I knew what I wanted to do when we went there. My roommate and I decided that we would try and find a way to get a question to be asked, and see if we could get on stage. And the day came, I put together a question, and I was raising my hand, and my friends to the right of me kept pointing to me, and finally after a few questions he picked on me and I hesitantly said how “New York State of Mind” was my favorite song, and how I had performed it with his saxophonist Richie Cannata in the past and wondered if I could go up and play it with him. And then he thought for a little — he took a second — and then he just said “Okay.” Which wasn’t quite convincing, but it was good enough. I walked up, we spoke about the arrangement for about 15 seconds — he just went through what he wanted me to play — and then from there, it was just … foggy. It’s hard to remember. I just started playing. I had practiced it a little bit thinking maybe I’d get the chance to go up … I kind of lost myself playing. Then afterward he said to me … he said that I was great, where are you from … and I said, “I’m a Long Islander just like you.” He was like, “Cool.” Then I walked off, and that was it … It was probably the greatest moment of my life, up to date.