If you’ve seen legendary singer, songwriter and piano man Billy Joel during the past quarter century, chances are you’ve also seen and heard his ace keyboardist and musical director David Rosenthal. Since 1993, the New Jersey native has accompanied Joel on sold-out runs at storied venues such as Madison Square Garden in New York and the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. But don’t let his casual smile and apparent ease fool you: Rosenthal is as serious as a surgeon when he hits the stage, executing a well-choreographed dance behind his cascading keyboard collection. From the individual sounds he has painstakingly programmed over his nearly three-decade run with Joel, to his pinpoint accuracy in performing some of the most memorable keyboard parts ever recorded, Rosenthal never misses a beat.
The night before yet another sold-out Joel show, Rosenthal sat down with me in midtown Manhattan to talk about how his attention to detail has made him one of the most in-demand musicians around.
Did you come from a musical household?
No. I’m the only musician in my family. But for some reason, when I was six years old, I asked my parents for a piano. Their response was, “Pianos are expensive!” [Laughs.] So I saved up my allowance and contributed a little bit. And that’s when they realized that I was serious about playing the piano.
So you took piano lessons?
Yeah. I began studying when I was seven years old. Right from the beginning, my teacher told my parents, “Your son is learning extremely fast.” I remember the first time we had our piano tuned, I was fascinated. I watched everything the tuner was doing, and when he was finished he said to me, “Hey kid, just for fun, let’s see what happens. What note is this?” He played a note, and I said, “That’s an A.” And he freaked out. So he played another note and I replied, “That’s a D.” My tuner said to me, “You have perfect pitch!” And I replied, “What’s that?” I didn’t think anything of it. I just knew that when my piano teacher would show me something, I would do whatever he asked me to do.