Piano men

Michael Cavanaugh joins Dayton Philharmonic for Music of Billy Joel’

By Tim Walker

Photo: Michael Cavanaugh joins the Dayton Philharmonic in a night dedicated to Billy Joel Oct. 8

I’m not ashamed to say it: I am a lifelong fan of New York’s own Piano Man. “Goodnight Saigon.” “You May Be Right.” “The Longest Time.” “Big Shot.” “Uptown Girl.” “Baby Grand.” “Allentown.” Lord, how I could go on.

Born in the Bronx, Billy Joel has been writing and recording hit songs for decades. His 1971 debut album, Cold Spring Harbor, contained the song “She’s Got a Way,” a belated hit for Joel when he released a live version 10 years later. While his first four albums contained compositions like “Captain Jack, “Piano Man,” and “New York State of Mind,” songs which would become signature tunes for Joel, it was the release of 1977’s The Stranger which really put him over the top. Featuring the hits “Movin’ Out,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “She’s Always a Woman,” and “Just the Way You Are” (the latter of which won 1979 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year), the album was Joel’s first to crack the Billboard Top 10, and it made him a household name.

On Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Schuster Center, in its Excite Season’s opening Rockin’ Orchestra event, the Dayton Philharmonic will join forces with musician Michael Cavanaugh for an evening of ‘The Music of Billy Joel.’ Piano man Cavanaugh may not be from New York (he was born in Cleveland in 1972, a year after Cold Spring Harbor was released), but he is more familiar with Billy Joel’s music than most. He was handpicked by Joel and invited to move to New York to help Twyla Tharp shape Movin’ Out, the Broadway jukebox musical which celebrates Joel’s career and songs. From 2002 to 2005, Cavanaugh played the part of the musician, performing and singing nonstop during the show, and he was subsequently nominated for Grammy and Tony awards for his role.

“For a while, I was a ‘dueling piano bar’ guy,” Cavanaugh says. “Dueling piano bars—there’s a lot of those—they have two grand pianos in a room, and they’re right up against each other, and people come in and make requests. It’s very audience interactive. I did that type of gig for a while, after growing up in Cleveland playing in bands. I started performing in nightclubs when I was 12.”

“So in 2001, I was playing in a piano bar here in Las Vegas,” Cavanaugh continues. “And, I got to know Billy Joel’s tour manager. Billy was my musical hero my whole life, and I got to know his tour manager Max Loubiere, which was very exciting to me. I was hoping to get a chance just to meet Billy—to shake his hand once—that would have been enough for me. And, Max decided to surprise me, and he brought Billy to a piano bar to hear me when I was performing. Billy was in town, he was doing a concert a couple of nights later, and when he came to hear me it was insane—luckily, I didn’t buckle under the pressure. And that led to a lot of good things. It let to me becoming friends with Billy, and it led to me starring in the show on Broadway. Going to a piano bar was probably not something Billy wanted to do—he and Elton John, after all, are the most famous piano men on Earth. But he came, and, at the end of my set, he sat down at the other piano and we jammed. It was incredible.”

“The biggest thing about the performance is the headliner, the leader of the group, Michael Cavanaugh,” says Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Gittleman will be conducting the Philharmonic during the evening’s performance. “Michael is someone who has fabulous Billy Joel chops—he played the ‘Billy Joel’ role for several years in the Broadway show Movin’ Out, where he’s basically the frontman for the whole show, singing lead on all the songs. So, he has long experience singing the repertoire and does just a fabulous job. I think what he does, it’s not designed to be an imitation of Billy Joel. But he certainly sings the songs fabulously, and it’s in the spirit of the original. It just puts the focus on the great songs that he sang, and what his music did to people when they listened to it.”

The Dayton Philharmonic presents “The Music of Billy Joel With Michael Cavanaugh” Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton. Show starts at 8 p.m. The Rockin’ Orchestra series is sponsored by Dayton Freight. To purchase tickets or for more information, please call the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance at 888.228.3630 or visit DaytonPerformingArts.org, or visit MichaelCavanaugh.com.

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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