Michael “Spike” Wilner was born in New York City and started playing piano at an early age. He was inspired by a television program about the life of Scott Joplin to learn to play Ragtime Music. He perused this art form throughout high school and performed Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” at the St. Louis Ragtime Festival. Although it was an informal appearance it, nonetheless, profoundly affected him and drove him to peruse a career in music. In his high school jazz program he met pianist Peter Martin who introduced him and inspired him to learn more modern jazz.
Wilner decided to enter into the New School For Social Research’s Jazz and Contemporary Music department, which was then in it’s first year. Headed by the late saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, this was an experimental forum where young jazz musicians were introduced to masters and left on their own to interact and play together. In this fertile musical environment Wilner met and became friends with many of today’s leading jazz musicians. Students at that time included: Peter Bernstein, Jesse Davis, Larry Goldings, Brad Mehldau, Roy Hargrove, Sam Yahel, Joe Strasser and many others. It was there that Wilner had the good fortune to become the student of the late pianist Walter Davis Jr. as well as the late great Jaki Byard. At this same time Wilner became involved at the Jazz Cultural Theater under the direction a Barry Harris and spent several years studying there.
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