Billy Joel surprised about 400 students on Thursday (May 30th) when he joined Tony Bennett at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York. The Associated Press reported that Bennett opened the school in 2001 through his Exploring the Arts program. Billy performed two songs -- at two different pianos on stage -- "New York State Of Mind" and "She's Got A Way." he also schmoozed and joked with students answering their questions, including: "What do you think is one of your biggest mistakes?" To which the "Piano Man" answered: "My biggest mistake was signing a lot of contracts that I didn't know what they were about. I signed away a lot of my rights -- record royalties, publishing rights, copyrights -- and it took me years to get that stuff back."
He credited an early music teacher for encouraging him on as a teen: "I had a good chorus teacher, and he encouraged me to become a musician. That's my greatest memory of school -- an adult said, 'You should consider becoming a professional musician.' I'd never heard (that) before in my life, and that kind of changed my life."
Billy Joel credits coming into his own in the early-'70s for his early success: "It just so happened that this coincided with the era of the singer-songwriter. James Taylor had come out with an album -- I think it was called Sweet Baby James. The 'singer-songwriter' genre became a new thing. Carole King, who had been around for years -- years and years -- suddenly had a solo album. Joni Mitchell. . . a guy named Elton John. All these solo artists -- Neil Young -- were becoming known as rock n' roll stars just because they had written songs. It wasn't even so much a matter of whether they were great singers or not: They were great writers."