Thursday, January 28, 2010

Piedmont Piano Moves to Uptown, Focuses on Live Shows

By Kathleen Richards
Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:01 AM

Longtime Oakland piano store Piedmont Piano opened the doors to its new location in Oakland’s Uptown district last weekend, becoming the latest business to join a neighborhood that includes the Fox Theater, Uptown, Flora, Bench and Bar, Somar Bar, the New Parish, and just-opened Hibiscus restaurant. “It’s a fabulous place to be,” said Piedmont Piano owner Jim Callahan.

The store kicked things off on Thursday with a celebration that extended four days and included free live performances by Omar Sosa Afreecanos Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, Eldar Trio, Larry Vuckovich Trio, and many others. (See photos here.)

Piedmont Piano purchased the beautiful Art Deco building located at 1728 San Pablo Avenue at 18th Street, the former home of the California Furniture Company built in 1946. The owner said they moved from their Piedmont Avenue location, where they had been for 31 years, because they were growing and needed a bigger space. Piedmont Piano had opened a San Francisco location five years ago, which held classical and jazz performances, but closed it a year and a half ago partially due to a significant raise in rent. “It came at a time when we realized that, in this world, having two piano stores just ten miles apart just doesn’t make sense,” said Callahan. “We moved back to Oakland and immediately started looking for a new, larger home and one we could buy. … The minute we saw [the new building] … we recognized it would be really perfect for us.”

The new space is large enough to accommodate a large piano showroom, performance space, music school and practice rooms, warehouse, rehearsal space, and recording studio. However, Callahan said the company is still keeping its Piedmont Avenue location for lessons because their music school is “thriving.”

The main focus of the new location will be as a performance space — especially for jazz, said Callahan. He said that while the East Bay has jazz venues, “there’s a lack of performance spaces with good pianos.” (Read about the closing of Anna’s Jazz Island here) “They have good pianos at Jazzschool and Yoshi’s, but they’re not as good as our pianos.” Their secret weapon? The ultra-pricey, ultra-rare, Italian-made Fazioli pianos. “They make pianos that a lot of people think are in a whole other world of their own than a lot of the great pianos in the world,” said Callahan.

There are only five Fazioli dealers in the entire United States, according to Callahan, and since they cost about $200,000, finding buyers isn’t easy. So the fact that performers can play Piedmont Piano’s Faziolis is likely to be a strong draw for performers and fans alike.

However, the performances aren’t expected to be money-makers for Piedmont Piano. Callahan said the impetus behind them — besides for the simple joy of it — is to draw in new potential customers to buy their pianos. All the money from the sale of tickets goes to the musicians, and they don’t charge musicians to perform. Callahan said they hope to hold about forty concerts a year — which will range from classical to jazz and beyond. The concerts don’t have to include pianists, either, although they’ll most likely be acoustic. They’ve been known to host a bluegrass concert and string quartet in the past. Those interested in performing at Piedmont Piano should contact Callahan at

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