Wijnands keeps striding along
Wijnands keeps striding along
What do you know? Jazz pianist who uses his left hand keeps style alive.
By JOE KLOPUS
The Kansas City Star
Hardly anyone in the world does what Bram Wijnands does. He’s a master of the intricate, two-fisted art of stride piano. When his right hand is playing cascades over leaping, pumping figures in his left, this central style in the evolution of jazz comes to life once again. But without its few dedicated practitioners, such as Wijnands, the style made most famous by Fats Waller might have disappeared already. "Stride started out as a solo style, a way to cover the rhythm and the harmony and the bass all with one hand," Wijnands said. "They called it ‘stride’ because the left hand has to jump back and forth between the bass and the chord." As more pianists blended into rhythm sections, Wijnands says, stride fell out of favor. And it presents some big difficulties. "It’s very hard to understand the harmonics and very hard just to hit the notes from a technical standpoint." But Wijnands won’t let stride become a museum piece. He has been performing it in Kansas City clubs for 15 years. And lately he has formed a powerful Kansas City-style swing band to feature his playing and his arranging talents. That band, the Majestic 7, appears Wednesday night at Jardine’s. Wijnands, 40, grew up in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. (Say his name "Brom WEY-nonds.") He started playing piano at age 4, and at age 7 or so, he was inspired by a record of barrelhouse piano by Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim and Pinetop Smith. About a year later he found stride, when he saw Waller in the film "Stormy Weather" on TV. He was trying to play stride before his left hand was big enough to make the necessary leaps. As a teen, Wijnands headed for the Hilversum Conservatory of Music, where he was lucky to have a teacher who was a total stride and Erroll Garner fan. He also made an important Kansas City connection: Singer Deborah Brown was teaching there. Then a KC friend of hers, singer Richard Ross, came over to Europe for some gigs and hired the budding stride pianist and his trio. When Ross got back home, he raved about Wijnands to anyone who’d listen. "Richard was the one who instigated my first trip to Kansas City," the pianist says. "That was in July ’91. We did six nights at the City Light Jazz Club, which is now the Plaza III." (He brought along drummer Jurgen Welge, who has also settled in Kansas City.) Return engagements with Ross in Europe followed, as did return engagements for Wijnands in Kansas City, at the Phoenix and elsewhere. Finally, about 1993, Wijnands settled down in Kansas City and started a family. The work has been steady. These days he’s at the Majestic Steakhouse on Friday and Saturday nights, playing powerful stride and singing, too. Or you might find him on someone else’s gig, playing bass (he’s no mere dabbler on that instrument). Sometimes you might even catch him playing accordion. But one of Wijnands’ best showcases is his Majestic 7 project, where he’s surrounded with a rhythm section and four horns (sometimes three saxes and a trumpet, sometimes four saxes). The band got started after singer Myra Taylor asked him to write some arrangements for her about six years ago. "After a few hits with Myra, I decided to try to keep the band going and write some new stuff," he says. Besides Wijnands’ originals, the group brings tunes from the Count Basie book back to Kansas City bandstands where they belong. And it performs material from KC pianist Pete Johnson, from big-band leaders Lionel Hampton and Tommy Dorsey, and even an R&B hit by Ruth Brown. Gigs for the seven-piece outfit weren’t numerous at first, but that didn’t stop Wijnands from making a CD of the band; you can order it from his Web site, www.bwjazz.com. Now that the band has a monthly gig at Jardine’s, things are picking up. Wijnands is also on the adjunct faculty of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. And if you’re his piano student, you’ll have to loosen up your left hand and play at least one tune in stride style, just to learn how it works. Because even if you’re a modern jazz pianist, "stride is a great practice tool," he says. "You can use it to develop swing, timing and a rock-solid feel. When you get the left hand going, the right hand gets into the beat more." And there’s no ignoring the huge role that stride has played in jazz history, from James P. Johnson and Waller to players they inspired such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Waller’s student. Even the modern jazz of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk has traces of stride in it. "It all adds up," Wijnands says.
“His drive on stage is absolutely incredible.
I always look forward to jamming with him.”
“I can’t take my eyes off his left hand. Fantastic work and phrasing.”
“Bram Wijnands is definitely the international ambassador of swing for this city. We are proud he calls Kansas City his home.”
Emanuel Cleaver II
Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, 1998
“He is the freshest and most talented pianist I have heard in a long time…He combines both the old and the new.
And last but certainly not least, he swings with a capital S!
Bram Wijnands has arrived.”
“A wonderful tribute to American musical artistry. His presence and performances…are a great asset to the Jazz giants of the past and future.”
“…the music is by no means ordinary. Instead, this new release crackles with energy from the talents of the Bram Wijnands Trio…
the intensity of the trio’s music creates a driving sound usually
associated with live recordings.”
“After a one-week gig, the entire Jazz community of Kansas City knew about this extraordinary new talent. Fans – acquired instantaneously – attended every performance to hear the refreshing sound of Bram’s piano and his swinging style, not to mention the sheer joy he emanates while playing.”
“I picked up on his energy. When I first got over to Holland and heard them, I was totally surprised, because he really does swing hard. European Jazz Is usually softer than American Jazz. I thought to myself ‘this is what I’ve been looking for.”
“Bram Wijnands adds a new dimension. He lets music shine and swing and shows us that good music and entertainment go together very well.”
Skip Voogd, Jazz Historian
National Dutch Radio
“Noticeable was the Dutch pianist Bram Wijnands. He proved perfection in playing Jazz…tight, interesting and exciting…there was a freshness and joy that captured the audience.”
“There was stride piano playing from Bram Wijnands, a Dutch musician whose accented singing of “Dinah” was a charming highlight.”
New York Times
“He is a national treasure.”