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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Upcycle Piano Craft: Steve Wilson, Piano Wizard

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

As an adult, changing careers and opening a new business is one of the hardest things a person can do. When I first met Steve Wilson and Anne Trinkl, they had both recently done just that to move to midtown Kansas City and open Upcycle Piano Craft.

Anne invited me to drop by Upcycle in depths of the pandemic and I instantly fell into a deep dream. What a magical place they had created!

I had sung with Anne years ago, when I was the Musical Director of the New Pointe Grille and had hired her and her band for the nightclub. Many years had passed, she had gotten into the medical field, Steve came from aeronautics.

That night, walking into a 3,200 square foot room with some 100 expertly maintained instruments of high-quality, literally blew my mind.

I sat in awe. Then, got up, walked around and noticed how expertly everything in the room (including the room, itself) were crafted.

I was asking, “who built that?” and “who did this?” The answer was always, “She did that.” Or ‘He built that.”

Then it started to sink in. He is a craftsman and they are here to fill a need. Kansas City once again has someone who cares about pianos, that is really serious about the musicality of each and every instrument, and each and every detail of each and every instrument.

Maybe you, as I, lived through the Pete Eye period in Kansas City. People still talk about Pete, a pianist, who played the nightclubs by night and maintained the pianos (himself) by day. Back then, if you dropped by the club in the afternoon and Pete had his head in the piano, you knew the gig was going to go a heck of a lot smoother that evening.

Every musician stayed on the ‘good side’ of Pete Eye. They always let Pete sit in. If he was drinking, they’d offer to buy him a drink.

I texted Joe and asked, “How do you feel about Steve Wilson?” Cartwright responded, “Oh, Steve’s the Shift!” (or something like that) “On second thought,” added Joe, “maybe you shouldn’t print that.” Continuing—Joe got down to it, “Steve Wilson is invaluable as a craftsman and Upcycle has given Kansas City a venue where pianists

and other musicians can be heard and appreciated.”

Heard and appreciated.

When a musician is “heard and appreciated” they feel that they have done their job. They can sleep at night. They can get up in the afternoon and anticipate going to the gig (we invented gig-workers) and enjoying themselves. And furthermore, why become a professional musician if you are not there to have a good time?

I spoke with pianist Roger Wilder. Roger is a master of pianistic detail. I would venture to say that there are a lot of details in Roger’s elegant style that many people miss.

Roger said of Upcycle Piano: “Steve and Anne have created a beautiful haven for musicians and music lovers.” When Mr. Wilder is hired to play less than an excellent piano, you can miss the detail in his beautiful sound. Roger is quoting everything from nursery rhymes to Beethoven—while effortlessly executing the music of Monk and Bird all at a lightning pace. This depth of subtlety requires an instrument that is responsive to the artist’s every whim.

Kansas City’s favorite pianists can’t get enough of Upcycle Piano Craft.

As large as the Upcycle showroom is, the basement (obviously) is equally as large! Downstairs is where the ‘rubber meets the road,’ so to speak, where Wilson works his magic. If you are lucky enough to make friends with Steve’s assistant, Zynzee, a brilliant German Shepard I do not want to be left alone with, (yet) then you’ll begin to get a handle on what it takes to create an excellent piano.

On the first Tuesday of each month, Upcycles’ Happy Hour features a masterful pianist and band. They’ve already featured each of the pianists mentioned in this article. The rules? The drinks are on the house and NEVER on the pianos.

Upcycle videotapes all the events, and scores of serious music fans and musicians drop by to socialize and listen to beautiful music from fine pianos.

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s long-time pianist, Charles Williams, has spent some time in the lower-level learning how fine pianos are created:

“Steve Wilson has been a great asset to the Kansas City area. He’s a great entrepreneur and teacher of the piano tuning & repair craft,” said Charles. “’Thanks for bringing some of the local pianists together to play.’ I am very fortunate to have met Steve Wilson and call him my friend.”

It is almost like there is something for everyone at Upcycle Piano Craft. If you like music, and it is hard to imagine that there is anyone who doesn’t like music—then there’s first Tuesday at 4:30 pm. That’s the time to remember. Upcycle is holding their monthly piano Happy Hour.

Perhaps you are a pianist who is looking to up your game?

This summer, Upcycle added their very first piano Master Class. The course is taught by Brant Jester, who recently received his master’s in jazz performance from UMKC. He began the series by offering, Piano Workshop-Jazz Harmony, the 2-5-1 Chord Progression.

I recently spoke with a jazz lover who is an amateur pianist. Her husband says she often plays the Upcycle piano they purchased, in the middle of the night and he loves it. She said, “Even though I don’t really know what I’m doing, I loved attending Brant’s class, perhaps someday I will suddenly realize how to actually do it.”

Brant is a very talented pianist from Ozark, Missouri, who’s found a home in Kansas City. After arriving here to hone his skills at UMKC, Brant has become a top-notch pianist. He improves every time you see him, because music was his life, long before he arrived here. And now, being in Kansas City gives Brant a great reason to play the piano practically every waking hour of the day.

“Masterful, Exquisite, and Professional . . .,” said pianist Brant Jester, “are words that come to mind when thinking about Steve Wilson and what he is cultivating at Upcycle Piano Craft.”

While still in school, Jester became a regular feature at the Majestic Steak House, a fine-dining experience that featured both Bram Wijnands & Joe Cartwright at the piano for decades. Brant’s former professor, drummer Carl Allen often joins him at the drums when available.

Find more about Upcycle Piano Craft with the 2022 KCUR story about the store or visit the Upcycle website.

Upcycle Piano Craft on KCUR FM

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