John Simon has created the confluence of music, art, entertainment and Southwestern architecture in his Steinway Piano Gallery of Tucson.
Brightly colored paintings by some of the Southwest’s most celebrated artists are displayed above elegant musical instruments. At the back of the Skyline Drive gallery, an acoustical cloud hangs over a hardwood stage, ready for the next recital and catered gathering.
The mix of visual and performing art is very much by design.
“If you think about it, people that invest in art, invest in music, and people that invest in music, invest in art,” Simon said. “We can capture both markets.”
The gallery helps Simon find the exposure he needs. He’ll work with nearby restaurants, the Gallery Row artists next door, musicians at the University of Arizona, Steinway performers and others to create memorable evenings.
“This is kind of a little Scottsdale, probably,” Simon said. “This market per capita, for music and arts, is one of the top 10 in the country.”
Simon looked at building a piano gallery in Oro Valley’s Steam Pump Ranch. When that plan lost steam, he started studying other spaces. His wife Cathy saw the Skyline space, a former art gallery with high ceilings, arches and balcony area, and they loved it.
“This is Southwest Steinway,” she exclaimed.
He opened the piano gallery on Jan. 26. Simon is in the midst of liquidating inventory and closing his East Speedway warehouse.
As an authorized Steinway dealer, Simon has access to premier musicians, from classical to jazz. He’ll bring in UA students majoring in performance, and faculty alike.
Performance is “a unique way we can promote our business,” Simon said. “There is a need for smaller venues like this where someone can come in and perform.”
The multi-functional performance area can seat more than 100 people on the main floor and balcony for “anything from recitals to solo,” two-piano performances to string quartets.
“We want to create an environment, an atmosphere, more conducive to these people.”
That atmosphere is enriched by the art work. Paintings by Diana Madaras, David Johns, Roy Purcell, Gregory Deane and William Spencer are among those hanging in the gallery today.
The building has 5,175 square feet downstairs, another 1,000 feet upstairs. The gallery is in the county, so the sales tax is 6.1 percent, lower than in Pima County municipalities.
Simon plans to have 35 grand pianos, 12-15 upright pianos and more, with the Steinway brand as well as Steinway-designed Boston and Essex pianos, Roland digitals and others, “price affordable.”
When people see the Steinway name and musical lyre, “the thinking is ‘I can’t afford it.’ We do have very affordable Steinways,” Simon said.
Simon got into the music business in 1968, taking the helm of the Simon Music Center his father started in 1932 in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa.
He moved to greater Tucson to retire. “Steinway approached me,” he said. “I came and took the territory,” stretching from Casa Grande into Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, and he’s had it since April 2004.
“It’s been a great challenge,” Simon said. But the Steinway status is “a feather in your hat. It’s instant recognition.”
A grand opening is planned this spring.