Richie Cannata ready to rock Morgan Park


Richie Cannata’s life has been all about music. He’s a Grammy-winning artist who has performed all over the world, as Billy Joel’s original saxophone player. Cannata played with the Beach Boys at Olympiastadion in Berlin, before a crowd of some 225,000, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. But Cannata, who will play “The Music of Billy Joel” at Morgan Park, in Glen Cove, on Sunday with his band, the Lords of 52nd Street, said he just loves playing, regardless of the size of the crowd. 

“Playing at the Bitter End, for 100 people, or 1,000 people, it doesn’t matter,” he said, referring to the Manhattan club. “I love them all, although it is more intimate when you play for 500 people.” 

Cannata, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Garden City Park with his family when he was 4. He chose Glen Cove as his home in 1984, after living in Sea Cliff for eight years. He had fond memories of Glen Cove from childhood, he said, when he would visit cousins who lived there. 

He is also a music producer, and he opened Cove City Sound Studios, on Pratt Boulevard, in 1983, which grew to become a renowned recording facility. Jennifer Lopez, Whitney Houston, Ashanti, Mariah Carey, Taylor Dayne, the Jonas Brothers, Celine Dion and Billy Joel are just some of the musicians who have recorded there.

Early years

Although he is known mostly as a saxophonist, Cannata also plays keyboards/piano, flute and clarinet. He began taking classical piano lessons when he was 4, after persuading his father to buy a piano. His parents, first generation Italians from Palermo and Calabria, did not play any instruments, but they appreciated music.

“My parents were hard-working Italians,” Cannata said. “Dad scraped the money together to buy the piano, and I started tak

ing lessons right before kindergarten.” 

Cannata connected with the musicianship of the stars of the big-band era and those who followed it, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Henry Mancini, listening to their records on his parent’s phonograph. 

He stopped taking piano lessons when he was 7 because, Cannata said, he was developing as a musician on his own. The music he was listening to at home led him to play the clarinet, and then, when he turned 8, he took up the saxophone. 

Today, Cannata plays a Selmer Mark VI tenor sax, and owns four other horns. The Selmer is what he will play with the Lords of 52nd Street, as well as keyboards, this weekend.


Time with Billy Joel, Beach Boys

Growing up in Garden City Park, Cannata played in school bands, and then in groups in the local music scene, and eventually became a studio musician as well. He met Joel in 1975, after Al Stegmeyer, an engineer at the now defunct Ultrasonic Recording Studios, in Hempstead, told Cannata that his brother was playing bass guitar for Joel, and they needed a sax player. 

That year, Cannata played the solo on “New York State of Mind” for Joel, who was so impressed that he asked Cannata to record it on “Turnstiles,” which went multiplatinum. Cannata joined Joel’s band, and stayed for five years. He played on some of Joel’s other multiplatinum albums, including “The Stranger, “Songs in the Attic,” “52nd Street” and “Glass Houses.” 

“Billy and I became close friends, and we did seven records together,” Cannata said. “We played clubs and stadiums together. I left his band to have a family and start a record studio, and I wanted to branch out. I played with Rosanne Cash, Stix and Tommy Shaw. We still stay in touch.”

Cannata opened for the Beach Boys as part of Joel’s band. Carl Wilson, the Beach Boys’ lead guitarist, loved the music, Cannata said, and when Cannata left Joel’s band, Wilson brought the Beach Boys to Cove City Sound Studios to record. 

“That’s when he said, ‘Do you want to join the Beach Boys?’” Cannata recalled. “I joined, and was with them for 15 years.” He performed with the group until 1998, playing saxophone, woodwinds and synthesizers.


Cancer scare

In 2015 Cannata lost mobility in his hands, and the pain became so excruciating that he couldn’t even pick up, let alone play, a saxophone. It was difficult for him on many levels, because, as Cannata will tell you, he is always busy. 

After being diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he spent six months at North Shore University Hospital, undergoing chemotherapy six days a week. 

“I was in the process of being inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. That’s when I got the cancer news,” he said. “When I was inducted, I had it.”

He credits the care he received at Northwell Health, his rehabilitation and his wife, Shirlene, for his recovery. 

“I’ve always known I have a wonderful gift from God. God put me in suspension,” he said of the cancer. “It’s a miracle I’m alive. Cancer made me stronger.”