ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Advertising executive Tom Townsend loves pianos, often playing jazz and blues at local clubs. Unused pianos, gathering dust, were a pet peeve for years.
"The idea was always find all these pianos that are everywhere when you keep your eyes open for them that are in excellent or close to perfectly workable shape," Townsend said. "Just unused, being ignored, often right across the street from a family that would never think of having a piano, or a church that could use another piano. I talked about this idea for literally years."
It took a tragedy for Townsend's idea to come to life.
"In 2010 my oldest son passed away in an auto accident. He was a student of art and design and we were music fans together," he said.
Both father and son played the piano. In tribute to his son Alex, Townsend created a non-profit called Pianos for People aimed at refurbishing donated pianos and delivering them to people who can't afford them. Townsend knew he needed help.
"Whenever I would bring it up to certain people in the music community they'd say 'you should go talk to Joe Jackson. I think he wants to do something like that,'" Townsend, who visited Joe Jackson's company, Jackson Pianos, said. "I said I want to take pianos that are not being used and give them to families and churches but don't have pianos. And he said 'so do I' and we started that afternoon."
Townsend also contacted his son's childhood piano teacher Pat Eastman, who identifies potential candidates for a free piano. Qualified recipients have limited income and a desire to make music. Then Jackson, a piano technician, picks up the piano, spends 10 to 15 hours refurbishing the piano. Jackson says his favorite part is delivery day.
"My favorite was this one kid," Jackson said. "We showed up and he had a suit and tie on. His mom had him get into a Sunday church outfit for the delivery of the piano. I've had people cry, jump up and down."
Jump up and down is exactly what Rev. Mary Finch did during our interview. Pianos for People delivered a piano to God Praises Tabernacle in St. Louis a few weeks ago. Rev. Finch is still excited because her church no longer has to use a stereo for music during church services. "You know you can't afford it but you really need it," said Finch. "This had been a blessing. I thank and praise God for Mr. Tom."
Pianos once abandoned and silent are now making a joyful noise in their new homes. "Great pianos missing being played, wanting to be played," said Townsend.
For more information about Pianos for People www.pianosforpeople.com.