Thirty years after moving to Kansas City, swinging  jazz pianist Bram Wijnands is constantly evolving.

Photography provided.

During the summer of 1991, Dutch jazz pianist Bram Wijnands made his debut performance in Kansas City.

“We broke the fire code every night,” Wijnands says.

Deborah Brown––a jazz vocalist from Kansas City who had gained popularity in Europe––connected Wijnands with drummer and singer Richard Ross for a consistently sold-out weeklong stint at City Light Jazz Club on the Plaza.

Wijnands came back to KC later that year during the holiday season, working downtown at The Phoenix. By the following year, the jazz pianist found himself frequently shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic.

“You’ll say yes to anything when you’re in your twenties,” Wijnands says. “You want to see the world.”

While the pianist had no intention of making KC his home, work was plentiful, and he quickly came to enjoy the city. In 1992, Wijnands made the move.

Soon, Wijnands found himself at the historic Mutual Musicians Foundation’s after-hours jams. The Foundation soon became his second home, jamming and hanging every Saturday with the remaining “old guard” from the heyday of Kansas City swing––a style Wijnands had an affinity for. It was an invaluable first-hand education.

“The anecdotes they would tell me and the way they hung out with each other really brought the history I studied to life,” Wijnands says. “We would never get home on a Sunday morning before nine.”

A former professor at UMKC’s Conservatory, Wijnands is both a seasoned educator and a lifelong learner. While he’s still dedicated to playing standards from the swing era, his renditions are constantly evolving. And he has advice for the next generation of jazz musicians.

“You have to keep raising the bar,” Wijnands says. “Your playing should be like a wine that ages well. It tastes better after thirty years, and it tastes better because it’s different.”

Upon revisiting past recordings of himself, Wijnands explains he often finds himself dissatisfied––often hearing things he would “never play again.”

“That means that’s progress,” Wijnands says. “That’s where it’s at.”

He’s passed this philosophy onto his daughter, vocalist Lucy Wijnands. The winner of the esteemed Ella Fitzgerald Vocal Jazz Competition in 2021, Lucy is now Brooklyn-based, but it’s a rare treat to witness the father-daughter duo––a seamless and enchanting collaboration––perform when she’s in KC.

Now, Wijnands consistently attends Swing Sundays at KC Bier Co., a Waldo-based brewery serving up German ales and fare. Known for his animated and charismatic performances, Wijnands delivers witty and cheeky interpretations of classic jazz standards—often including some of his favorites such as “Tea for Two,” “Laura” and, he says, “anything Gershwin.” And for those who dig polka, Winjands also delivers an equally lively set of the traditional Eastern-European music on Saturdays at KC Bier Co.  

GO: Swing Sundays with Bram Wijnands. Sundays from 3–5 p.m. KC Bier Co., 310 W. 79th St., KCMO.

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