Beyond enjoying diverse, eclectic and highly successful careers in the music industry, Yamaha artists Mark Rivera and Carl Fischer share one more common denominator: both are "go-to" brass musicians for legendary "Piano Man" Billy Joel. The two met, appropriately enough, onstage during the Tony Award-winning smash hit, Movin' Out, created by Billy Joel and renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp. Rivera, who plays Yamaha tenor, alto and soprano saxophones and the flute, has performed and recorded with Joel for 26 years, and was a sub for the Broadway show. Fischer, who is primarily a trumpet player, plays five Yamaha horns (a custom trumpet, flugelhorn, superbone, and tenor and soprano saxophones) and was in Movin' Out for three years until 2005, when he joined Joel's 8-piece band.
"The first time I heard Carl play was at a rehearsal," Rivera recalls. "Billy wanted him to play the 'Zanzibar' solo, taking it down a half step. The next day, Carl had transposed the whole thing and blew Billy's socks off. Carl has great pitch and is extremely musical."
Both will perform with Joel during his sold-out July 16th and 18th Shea Stadium shows, "Last Play at Shea," in New York City and other U.S. dates this summer to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Joel's breakout album, The Stranger, which catapulted him into superstardom. Many tunes from that multi-platinum collection are still radio staples: "Just The Way You Are," "Only The Good Die Young," "She's Always A Woman" and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)." The NYC dates coincide with the release of two special anniversary editions of The Stranger and the closing of Shea Stadium.
"The show at Shea Stadium is going to be over the top, intense," says Rivera. "It sold out in 46 minutes, which is pretty wild. I dare not make a comparison with The Beatles but that's pretty impressive by anyone's standards. I've been blessed to play with Billy for all these years," says Rivera, adding that he appreciates Joel's willingness to allow him and others in the band freedom to pursue outside musical opportunities. In Rivera's case, that's meant memorable gigs with the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Yamaha artist Elton John, Peter Frampton, Jack Bruce, Charley Drayton, Will Lee, Jeff Kazee, Billy Preston, legendary producer Mutt Lange and countless others, not the least of whom is Ringo Starr. "I'm living a dream," says Rivera. "If someone had told me back when I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show that I'd know Ringo and be his friend and his musical director, I never would have believed it." Rivera also runs a highly successful entertainment company, Mark Rivera Entertainment, which books the biggest names in rock 'n roll for high-profile corporate and association events.
Like Rivera, Fischer thrives on being a musician. "My dad was a great trumpet player and took me to a million gigs. Otherwise, I've always loved sport fishing and just got my Captain's license. They work together, music and fishing, because they are both very creative and self-sufficient. I'm a Long Island/New York kind of guy, so Billy and I linked up that way right away. I think we've only had a conversation about music twice in two years.
In addition to recording or touring projects with Mariah Carey, Blue Man Group, The Four Tops and many others, Fischer toured for 12 years with the late jazz trumpet legend Maynard Ferguson, and served as his musical director. "He let me open his concerts with my band, the Carl Fischer & Organic Groove Ensemble, and he's missed very much. We used to do a lot of clinics too, and I try to give back in that way when I can. That's another reason I love being associated with Yamaha, because they're totally supportive of music education in the school systems and are very involved with education."
Fischer is proud of his association with Yamaha, which has given him an opportunity to be an active clinician and music educator. "I used to play a horn Maynard gave to me, an old '60s vintage trumpet," says Fischer. "I knew Wayne Tanabe, a Yamaha brass specialist, from when I was in the trenches with Maynard. He began experimenting and I'd give him notes back," he says of the process of developing his custom Yamaha trumpet. "One of the good things about Yamaha is they have the technology and the exact tolerances with machining, so my Yamaha trumpet plays very easily, very efficiently, but it's also genuine and warm. It's as personable as anything I've every played. It can be bright and edgy, and then have a warm, dark jazz sound. It's a horn with character."
Of his relationship with Billy Joel, he raves. "Working with Billy has been great," Fischer continues. "I've been on the road for 17-18 years now, and hands-down, working with him is the most beautiful. Most of the people who work with him have been with him 10-12 years. I feel like we're all kindred souls, and there's great chemistry together."
Rivera, a Brooklyn native, attended the prestigious High School of Performing Arts known by many as "the Fame School". He started down the road of jazz right after graduation and by 1975 he was backing John Lennon for a number of TV performances with a band based out of Record Plant Studios. Passionate about his instruments, Rivera considers Yamaha to have the most effective instruments in the business. "My Yamahas are the best horns I ever had my hands on," he says. "My silver custom tenor is the biggest sounding tenor I've ever played. I've had it ever since they first came out; it's one of the early custom originals, a 41-Z model. My silver unlacquered Yamaha soprano plays great. I hear it in my head and hear it in my body. It feels right, feels like it's a part of my throat."
"Music is something I'm allowed to do, but I'm driven by my family. I try not to take myself too seriously, try not to trip on myself," adds Rivera. "My father always said, 'don't talk up to or down to anybody. By the slightest twist of fate, you could be doing something entirely different'."
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