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Spike Wilner

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.

It was also at this time that Wilner began to work professionally on the New York City jazz scene.  He began to play gigs in the various clubs and throughout the years has held down many steady engagements in well-known clubs.  Wilner was a house pianist at the legendary, now defunct, Village Gate as well as other long-gone clubs such as Visiones, The Angry Squire and The Village Corner. In 1995, Wilner became involved with the jazz club Smalls under the direction of owner Mitch Borden.  At Smalls, Wilner has developed his music and his career.  He recorded a live record there “Late Night: Live At Smalls (Freshsound Records)” and now currently performs there each Sunday evening with his sextet, Planet Jazz.

During his last 15 years, Wilner has played with many names now well known in jazz such as: Peter Bernstein, Joe Magnarelli, Grant Stewart, Jesse Davis, Eric Alexander, Jim Rotundi, Joe Farnsworth, Bob Mover, Ian Hedrickson-Smith, Ryan Kisor, Steve Davis, Ralph Lalama, Paul Gill, Neal Miner, Joe Strasser, Ari Roland, Chris Byars, Sherman Irby, Joel Frahm, Omer Avital, Stephon Harris and many others. Other professional work has included tours with the Artie Shaw Orchestra, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and a European tour with Maynard Furgeson's ”Big Bop Nouveu” band. Wilner has toured extensively in France as part of the Xavier Richardeau quintet.  In Paris he has also worked with bassist Pierre Boussaguet and trombonist Sarah Morrow. Wilner participated in two Thelonious Monk Piano Competitions, one in 1989 as a finalist and one in 1993 as a semi-finalist. Wilner has worked with Wynton Marsalis on a ballet piece composed by Wynton and choreographed by Zhongmei Li that was performed at the Library of Congress. Wilner currently works and records with Washington D.C. vibraphone legend Lennie Cuje. He has also worked as rehearsal pianist with singer Tony Bennett and has recorded with Duke Ellington alumni Milt Grayson.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Plays Monk & Ellington

Cellar Records
2022

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Plays Monk & Ellington

Cellar Music Group
2022

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Aliens & Wizards

CellarMusic
2021

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Koan

Posi-Tone Records
2016

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La Tendresse

Posi-Tone Records
2012

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3 To Go

Posi-Tone Records
2009

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