Arts and Entertainment

Pianist Walt Wagner plays Whidbey Island twice, with feeling

Walt Wagner will play two shows next weekend in Freeland and Langley. - Photo courtesy of Walt Wagner
Walt Wagner will play two shows next weekend in Freeland and Langley.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Walt Wagner

Walt Wagner has been to the dark side of the moon, and liked it.

“In the Pink” is the latest CD from the world-class pianist on which he reinterprets the music of Pink Floyd for the piano with 13 songs taken from “The Wall,” “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Division Bell.”

Wagner said he was inspired to record the songs by some of the staff at Canlis, a restaurant in Seattle where he regularly performs.

“Although I had pretty much ignored that group when it was first popular, I belatedly grew to appreciate its amazing sound and originality,” Wagner said.

“The more Pink Floyd songs I learned and played, the more I was able to find their essence and translate it to solo piano.”

It’s no surprise that Wagner was able to take music virtually unknown to him and make it his own. He’s been playing the piano since age 6, and said there is nothing else in the world that he’d rather be doing than playing for an audience.

He’s been doing just that for a long time, having performed in a variety of venues including guest appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “The Merv Griffin Show” and on an Andy Williams and Peggy Fleming special at Madison Square Garden. Wagner’s own TV special, “The Walt Wagner Show,” aired worldwide.

For the past two years, Wagner has been featured in concert at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, as well as having performed with a long list of national celebrities, including as pianist-conductor for singer Peggy Lee.

Wagner will bring his celebrated talents to Whidbey Island for two shows next weekend. He’ll perform a benefit house concert for Whidbey Island Center for the Arts at Robbie Cribbs’ Sound Trap Studios in Freeland at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, followed by “An Evening with Walt Wagner” at WICA in Langley at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22.

Another Wagner record titled “Pearls,” a collection of 14 jazz and pop standards, reveals Wagner’s wonderfully relaxed style.

Here’s a recording in which one can almost hear a smile on the pianist’s fingers as he effortlessly plays “Cry Me a River,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “My Foolish Heart.” Wagner is currently at work on volume two of “Pearls.”

Recording is great, but performance is what makes this artist tick, and Wagner said that, for him, when he plays it’s always about communicating with the audience.

“Even when I’m alone playing in my studio, I am always imagining what effect the music I am playing might have on my audience,” he said.

His goal is to take audiences to that mysterious, lost-in-the-music place where a performance can send people. One can imagine that an artist with his kind of connection to his instrument sends his listeners to such a place often. Each person, he said, comes to a concert with his or her own temperament, joys, hurts, expectations and musical sensibilities.

“But my rule is: Whatever I choose to play at a given performance, it has to be something that, first, I will be able to feel deeply, and only then can I feel confident that my listeners will be moved too,” Wagner said.

Tickets for the benefit at Sound Trap Studios are $150 and are available at www.WICAonline.com, or call 221-8268 or 800-638-7631.

Tickets for An Evening with Walt Wagner at WICA are $30 (premium seats) and $20 (standard seats), and are available with a click here.

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