New York City jazz pianist returns to @KWJazz

New York City jazz pianist returns to Waterloo Jazz Room

WATERLOO — New York City jazz pianist Spike Wilner returns to The Jazz Room for a show Saturday, just days after launching a campaign to fund a groundbreaking way to distribute the music recorded in his Greenwich Village club and share the revenues with the artists who created it.

It could become a template for solving one of the bigger challenges of the digital age — seeing musicians get paid for their work. As the manager of Smalls Jazz Club since 2007, Wilner recorded more than 7,000 shows and wants to turn that into an archive library that is available, for a fee, to subscribers around the world.

People inside and outside the music business will watch closely to see how it works out. Governments big and small in Ontario are grappling with some of the same issues.

The provincial government announced The Ontario Music Fund, which will spend $45 million over three years to support live music and musicians. The City of Kitchener created Music Works last year to do the same thing. Both might have something to learn from the project in the little jazz club in Greenwich Village.

As Wilner chatted about the Smalls Musician’s Revenue Sharing Project, it became clear that any live music venue recording and saving the shows might be able to do something similar.

In 2008, Wilner started the label SmallsLIVE, and so far released about 35 CDs — a tiny fraction of the club’s archived shows. You can view the catalogue and order copies by visiting the website,

But about five days ago, Wilner started a fundraising campaign on indiegogo — a popular crowdfunding platform. He wants to make the Smalls archive available for streaming or downloading and then share the revenues with the musicians who created the recordings in his club.

The goal is to raise $60,000. After five days, the club raised about 25 per cent of the goal. The funds will pay for the software and hardware upgrades needed to make the archives available. It will also allow the club to buy a new Steinway piano. The current one is more than 100 years old.

You can view the details of the fundraising campaign and a special video about Smalls by clicking on the “Smalls Musician’s Revenue Share Project” at the top of the club’s main web page, In the video, Wilner is wearing a ball cap from The Jazz Room that he was given after his January show.

The revenue-sharing project will work like this: Subscribers will pay about $5 a month and the software on the club’s site will track which shows and artists get streamed and downloaded, and for how many minutes or hours. About four times a year, the money collected from subscribers will be divided among the musicians.

“So, in other words, the more listening time you get, the more money you get from the pool,” Wilner says. “And we are going to credit every musician who is on a date with the listen.”

The recordings made in the club become the intellectual property of the musicians.

“They can sell it, they can master it, they can release it on another label,” Wilner says. “They can do whatever they want to do with it with the caveat that we have the unlimited right to sell it from our archive library.”

Some of the revenue from the revenue-sharing program will be used to establish the Harry Whitaker Foundation to provide financial help to musicians in need as long as they have played at least one gig at Smalls. Whitaker was a fixture at Smalls for years, both on stage and in the backroom, where he held court over a chess board and welcomed all comers. He died in November 2010.

Whitaker was a legendary jazz pianist out of Brooklyn who mentored many on the New York scene today. Among his many achievements, Whitaker was the music director for Roberta Flack. In a tribute to his old friend and mentor, the first CD released by Wilner on the SmallsLIVE label was a Whitaker solo gig in the club.

A large portrait of Whitaker hangs on the wall behind the piano bench. After Whitaker died, his cat Minnow was brought to the club where she has lived ever since.

Since the 1970s, Greenwich Village became the world capital of jazz, and Wilner is enormously popular among the musicians there. He started his professional career hosting a jam night in the old Village Gate on Third Street (now the Zinc Bar).

When Wilner celebrated his 47th birthday on June 16, musicians lined up to get into the club to help him celebrate. It was shoulder-to-shoulder inside. The line stretched up the steep, narrow stairwell and out onto West 10th Street.

The last to leave? Wilner, at about 5:30 a.m. The musician’s musician was going for breakfast.

The Spike Wilner Trio received a spontaneous standing ovation when it played The Jazz Room in January. There is a lot of anticipation for tonight’s show, which will see Paul Gill on bass and Pasquale Grasso on guitar.

Gill is a veteran player on the New York City jazz scene and gigs regularly with Wilner. Grasso moved to New York a couple of years ago from Italy, but he made a big impression on Wilner.

“He is really one of the very, very best young guitar players I have heard in a long time,” Wilner says. “Has a very interesting style, very traditional. Plays a guitar, as you will see at the concert, as a classical guitarist would play it, with a foot rest and a classical technique.”


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