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Alexa Ray Joel Biography

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Alexa Ray Joel
Alexa Ray Joel
 Alexa Ray Joel (born December 29, 1985) is an American singer, songwriter and pianist. She is the daughter and only child of singer-songwriter Billy Joel and supermodel Christie Brinkley.

Joel released an EP Sketches (2006) and several singles on independent record labels. Joel has performed at numerous charity events and New York City fashion events, and in 2010 was chosen to be the spokesmodel for Prell shampoo.

Early life and influences

Alexa Ray Joel
Alexa Ray Joel

Joel is the daughter of singer Billy Joel and his second wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley. Her middle name Ray is in honor of the late musician Ray Charles. She has a half-brother Jack Paris (Taubman, born 1995) and a half-sister Sailor Lee (Cook, born 1998), both children of her mother Christie Brinkley.

Her father, Billy Joel, wrote his 1994 song "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)" for her, and she has stated it is her favorite song of his. His 1989 song "The Downeaster Alexa" is titled after a boat he named after her, but is about the struggles of Long Island fishermen. Joel is also referenced in her father's 1989 song "Leningrad" (with lyrics: "...He made my daughter laugh, then we embraced..."), in which "He" refers to a Russian man who became a circus clown after being in the Red Army.)

When she was two years old, Joel's father sang and played nursery rhymes for her on the piano. She dressed in the costume of singers and musical characters and performed for her parents. At the urging of her mother, beginning at age 4, and more seriously from about age 11 through 16, Joel pursued classical piano training. She later said that "piano playing was more of a skill that I had to hone,... not as easy for me as singing and songwriting," and which she humorously said sometimes involved "kicking and screaming." However, Joel later expressed gratitude for her classical piano training, saying that she considers classical music to be "the foundation of all music as well as the most 'musical' type of music," and that her classical experience made her a "very melodic" songwriter. Piano lessons were "what really got me into songwriting" and were "the platform for the melodies and ideas I would come up with." "My ear training came in a very organic way, just from futzing around, singing with my dad at the piano."

Noting that her musical upbringing with her father gave her a "unique inside-peek into the songwriting process," in 2006 Joel remarked that "It's no wonder I write music in the same way (my father) does: melody first, and lyrics second." Joel said that by age 15 she was finishing complete songs and complementing those songs with piano accompaniment, describing her lyrics as taking on more depth during the ensuing two years because she was also writing poetry. After studying classical piano, she recalled that she hadn't "really committed to the art of songwriting" until she was about eighteen."

Joel attended the Berklee College of Music's five week Music-Fest workshop, which reportedly "encourag(ed) her to explore her gifts as a singer and performer" and "helped her gain confidence" as she had been a shy teenager.

Joel attended New York University (NYU) as a freshman in the musical theater program, which she said was "great" and influenced her as a songwriter since "some of my songs in their structure are sort of like theater songs." However, Joel also reported feeling "disconnected" in the musical theater program at college, retreating to the piano to focus on writing and performing her own songs. She left NYU to pursue a career in music.

Alexa Ray Joel
Alexa Ray Joel

At age 19, in 2005 Joel assembled a band and performed her debut live show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, also performing at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey. In 2006 Joel played nearly 100 shows,[citation needed] including a Hard Rock Cafe tour completed in May 2006


Joel self-released and independently distributed the six-song EP Sketches in August 2006, which she promoted by visits to 16 cities. Joel explained "It's called Sketches because it's like raw sketches, pretty much what we sound like live. About three of the songs, actually, were done in one take." "There was no specific strategy behind this EP. We simply recorded six songs that I liked because they were eclectic. ... I was just really trying to put out different styles, a whole mixture of stuff," from "jazzy" ("Song of Yesterday") to "doo-wop" ("The Heart of Me") to "funky" ("Now It's Gone").

She cautioned that Sketches was not a "first album" but rather "a raw CD that was initially intended to be only a demo." "When I was recording Sketches, just going into a studio and working out songs with other musicians was new to me. I didn't have people around me making decisions; I really did it myself. So, Sketches is really the baby, the egg that hatched." "I don't have a team of managers and assistants around me because it's very important to feel like I can do this on my own – especially considering who my father is."

Joel designed and illustrated the CD cover, packaging and inserts that included her handwritten lyrics.

Joel has commented on the six tracks on Sketches:

  Joel said that she wrote "The Revolution Song" near the end of her freshman year, when she was more introverted than others in NYU's musical theater program.[11] With lyrics "We spend all our days tryin' to make somebody proud, It's enough to make me wanna go and scream it out loud," she said that it was "one of the most liberating songs for me to write."[11] "There is always resistance when you're young ... wanting to have passion and desire and love. ... So I wrote about what I felt."[24]

    Joel explained that "Now It's Gone" is about her mother's separation from her then husband amid allegations of his infidelity: "I wrote ("Now It's Gone") in a day. It came really naturally. It helped me get rid of the anger that I have. When I perform it, the anger boils back up because I get into the song. But (the anger has) kind of all washed itself away in the lyrics. "People can hear that song ('Now It's Gone') and get angry at whoever, some annoying person in their life."

    Joel referred to "Song of Yesterday" as "my Ray Charles song, ... about being more inspired by the music of my father's generation as opposed to my own," expressing "longing for the music of the past." "It's very old-school,... (when) people focused on melodies back in the day."

    Joel said "The Heart of Me" is "about how I reveal myself in my songs and my dependency on music. I was shyer then, so it was harder for me to communicate naturally." "'The Heart of Me'... introduce(d) me, and the fact that I do write my own music, which I wanted to make clear on my album." Of the lyrics, "I'm so tired of hearing these love songs," Joel explained "I was longing for a different time, when songwriters wrote really good songs."

    "Resistance" was "written when I was 18, at a time when I was a very shy, awkward girl. ... I was craving a passionate, intimate connection with a man! I wrote that song when I was very into theater, so it's almost theater rock."

    Sketches also included a pop/rock cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down."

Joel's work in Sketches was characterized as including a "coiled rebellious streak that seems greatly at odds with the rich melodicism of the music,.... (displaying) anxious outsider tendencies throughout the EP." The allmusic review of Sketches said that a "restless tendency has been passed on from father to daughter, along with whatever natural musical genes, which makes Alexa Ray Joel, on the basis of this debut EP, one of the best second-generation rockers to yet emerge." The Phoenix New Times said that this, Joel's first EP, "doesn't bear the mark of a burgeoning genius so much as that of a solid, self-aware songwriter who's still fine-tuning her craft," characterizing her songs as having a "smooth, jazzy vibe, ... vocal-driven with simple piano accompaniment," and further commenting on Joel's "soulful, lilting voice and clean melodies." The West Valley View compared Joel to aspects of Norah Jones, Aretha Franklin, and Nelly Furtado, and described Sketches as having "six delicately crafted rock-infused soul songs that dance openly with pop aesthetics – catchy hooks, superb piano arrangements, full choruses, guitar-teasing melodies."

Alexa Ray Joel
Alexa Ray Joel

After Sketches

Joel performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (April 2007), the 2007 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (June 2007), and the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival (September 2007).

Joel performed onstage with her father during the 2008 Rainforest Foundation Fund Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall on May 8, 2008. Other charity events at which Joel has performed include the "Save Sag Harbor" benefit concert (2008), the "Stage For The Cure" benefit for pediatric cancer (New York City, 2008), a benefit for The Art of Elysium (artists for seriously ill children; The Hamptons, 2009), a benefit for Habitat for Humanity (Long Beach, New York, 2010), the "Right To Play Day" benefit (Sag Harbor, New York, 2010), and the Eric Trump Foundation benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (New York City, 2010). She has also supported animal rights, including the Animal Haven's Speakeasy Bash (New York City, 2012).

Joel and her father performed his song "Baby Grand" at a Barack Obama election fundraiser at the Hammerstein Ballroom on October 16, 2008.

Joel debuted her single "Invisible" on The Wendy Williams Show in October 2009, the song being described as a "piano-driven ballad... about a bad breakup."

Joel's "Notice Me" single, released on May 24, 2010, was listed as a "Hit-Bound song" on the Sirius XM Hits 1 satellite radio channel in August 2010. Newsday described the single as having a "carefree braininess" and "bouncy guitar riffs and an instantly hummable chorus" that made Joel's work "sound like Regina Spektor crossed with Katy Perry." "Notice Me" is Joel's first collaboration with producer Tommy Byrnes and her first since signing with Long Beach, New York management company OCD Music Group/The Hang Productions. Joel described the "Notice Me" video as using fashion to show both a modern look and a vintage throwback look.

Joel had a residency playing in the Oak Room of New York's Plaza Hotel in late 2010 and early 2011, said to add a "contemporary vibe" to the "storied venue." 


Joel has been active in New York fashion events. She performed at Manhattan's "Fashion's Night Out" in 2009 (Elie Tahari), 2010 (Bloomingdale's), and 2011 (Bloomingdale's). During New York Fashion Week in September 2012, Joel interviewed celebrities and designers as a host for social networking website and she performed at the launch of Bobbi Brown's book Pretty Powerful: Beauty Stories to Inspire Confidence, also appearing with Brown on Today

Artistry and influences

Joel described her music while in the Musical Theater program at NYU as taking on a musical theater tone, and, because at age 18 she "didn’t really have a boyfriend... or know as much," her music was "dreamy and idealistic," "not necessarily as edgy."
Portrait of Joel in early 2010.

Joel characterized the genre of her debut 2006 EP Sketches as being "pop/soul/blues," its allmusic review describing Joel as "drawing on a lot of different styles" to create "instantly familiar pop." The following spring, Joel described this earlier work as having been "idealistic and maybe a little more poppy," explaining that her ensuing work "goes a little deeper" and focuses more on the lyrics, some of her newer songs being in the jazz and country genres. Her published works have been classified in the pop/rock, and jazz genres. Joel herself explained that it is a "mistake" for artists "to confine their music into one specific genre, ... because there are so many styles of music to be influenced by." One commentater remarked that Joel's "pitch-perfect singing and big kit bag of stylistic flourishes ... allow this versatile vocalist/songwriter to sound like a Billie Holiday or Etta James one moment, then a Carole King or even a Dolly Parton the next.

Joel has likened her creative approach to that of her father Billy Joel: In 2006 Joel explained that, like her father, she strives to write songs that are very melodic, with a unifying theme or hook being present throughout. However, her songs are distinct: Joel was described as writing "tight, melodic, catchy songs that are as classically constructed as her father's without sounding much like his work," Joel being said to have more in common with the "classicist coffeehouse pop" of Norah Jones than with her father. Asked about their respective musical styles, Joel responded: Mine is "a bit more soulful, more blues than my dad's. He’s more pop rock."

Asked about her approach to songwriting, Joel explained that her "pattern is that songs are easiest for me when I’m really in the throes of things. I don’t think I write as well when a lot of time has gone (by) and I look back and reflect. ... I like to write when I’m feeling it in the moment. "I usually have the melody first, and (then) the lyrics," noting that her father "focuses on the melody first, and then, the lyrics are always very fitting, ... you never say “oh, that sounds awkward.” Like the pieces of a puzzle, everything just fits together." "My favorite songs are simple songs." "I’m very, very old school,...I like songs that sound like…classics. ... like they’re timeless. I’m always trying to emulate that with my songs."[11] Even before Sketches was released, a reviewer remarked "There's nothing remotely indie or trendy about Joel. As a songwriter she's clearly absorbed the classics Carole King, Elton John, Billy Joel."[54] In 2006 Joel said "I like slow-burning jazz songs," and in 2008 cited Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Billie Holiday and Etta James as influences." In 2011, however, Joel reportedly mentioned Pink Floyd, Radiohead, June Carter, Regina Spektor and Lily Allen as influences.

Asked in 2012 what inspires her music, Joel replied "love and relationships inspire me most of all," adding that "music from great songwriters inspires me to constantly challenge and push myself creatively, and to delve into places I might otherwise be hesitant about. "(Y)ears ago, I was ... primarily influenced by... classic singer-songwriters like Carole King, Ray Charles, and Randy Newman, so I was writing within the genre of an old-school sound with simply structured pop-chords and a Beach Boys/bluesy feel. Now, I’ve grown tired of that niche and those influences, and I’m moving fastidiously into a much darker, mature place than I would’ve ever expected through listening to artists like Radiohead, The Cure, Annie Lennox, Fiona Apple, and Rufus Wainwright. Suddenly, I have an urge to only write in minor chord (pro)gressions, and to supplement those eery melodies alongside lyrics with a tinge of tragedy and cynicism to them."

Concerning artistic development, Joel, who described herself as having been "overly polite" and avoiding confrontation, advised in late 2010 that "Your songs are your babies, you have to protect them, and you cannot let anybody tweak them or finish them in a way that you feel isn't right."

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