Jazz/classical pianist Rich Pellegrin sits at the concert grand piano at Langley United Methodist Church. Photos by Dave Felice

Jazz/classical pianist Rich Pellegrin sits at the concert grand piano at Langley United Methodist Church. Photos by Dave Felice

Pianist brings classical music, jazz to island

Whidbey’s arts community has a new resident, and he has been busy making friends with his unusual blend of improvisational jazz and classical piano.

Rich Pellegrin has spent the better part of last year settling into his new home in Langley and getting ready for several summer concerts and recitals.

“Whidbey has incredible energy in the land, the water, the wildlife and the people,” said Pellegrin. “The support for the arts here is fantastic, and I’m thrilled to join this community. Everyone has been so generous, offering me places to practice, record and perform.”

One of those places is the fellowship hall at Langley United Methodist Church, where Pellegrin has set up a musical home of sorts. He says he made a deal to use the space and an old Everett concert grand piano that had been in storage.

“Bill Green at Star Store had the piano and I asked if he would mind if I had some work done on it. The piano has really interesting tone and character, and Bill was happy I was interested in it.”

With the piano renewed, Pellegrin began digitally recording new material at the church. He recently played a solo improvised recital at Crawford House Inn at Langley, and joined with well-known Whidbey tenor saxophonist and bandmate Neil Welch for solo sets at Good Shepherd Center in Seattle. He has another concert at Noorlag Salon in Oak Harbor, on July 27.

Pellegrin has been making social and professional connections since first arriving on Whidbey. “One of the first people I met was Island Consort Director Sheila Weidendorf. Everyone has been incredibly nice. I got a warm welcome from all the churches and performance venues such as Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.”

Living in Langley is just about the opposite of his previous residence on Capitol Hill in Seattle, said Pellegrin, and he enjoys walking to the fellowship hall for practice.

Earshot Jazz magazine describes Pellgrin’s play as “strikingly original music, phenomenally sensitive and expressive” and says “Pellegrin is clearly an artist to watch.”

His third album, “Down,” released in February by Origin Records of Seattle, is getting highly favorable reviews. He is also currently working on another album of solo improvisations patterned after 20th century classical composers such as Debussy and Shostakovich.

Although Pellegrin started playing piano at age five, he spent his adolescence focused on percussion. After other musical experiences, he discovered and settled on jazz and improvised music.

Pellegrin studied at Oberlin College in Ohio, and his phone still has an Ohio area code. He has taught at the University of Washington and the University of Missouri. Currently, he is on faculty at the University of Florida, where he spends part of the year.

At Missouri in 2014, Pellegrin put together the Mizzou Improvisation Project, an event featuring scholars performers, educators, improvisers and composers. Collaborative recording with Pellegrin’s Seattle-based quintet and the Mizzou New Music Ensemble led to the material on his most recent release.

With Neil Welch, Pellegrin’s quintet includes trumpet by R. Scott Morning, bass by Evan Flory-Barnes and drums by Christopher Icasiano.

Well-known Whidbey saxophonist Neil Welch practices with pianist Rich Pellegrin at the United Methodist Church hall in Langley.

Well-known Whidbey saxophonist Neil Welch practices with pianist Rich Pellegrin at the United Methodist Church hall in Langley.

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