Pianist and composer Walt Wagner is making a return to WICA. This time, he will be bringing members of his jazz trio to perform. (Photo by Monte Cline)

Pianist and composer Walt Wagner is making a return to WICA. This time, he will be bringing members of his jazz trio to perform. (Photo by Monte Cline)

Walt Wagner Trio performing at WICA July 17

Tickets are selling fast for a performer who has a special connection with Whidbey Island.

Tickets are selling fast at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts for a performer who has a special connection with Whidbey Island.

Pianist Walt Wagner has performed at WICA at least four times before, but this is the first time he will be bringing his newly formed jazz trio to the mainstage.

The group, which formed in 2018, consists of Walt Wagner on the keys, Dan Dean on the electric bass and Ben Smith on the drums.

Wagner and Peter Morton, a Langley resident and councilman who often plays the piano for WICA guests in Zech Hall, have a friendship spanning decades that started when Morton commissioned Wagner to write and perform a musical composition in 1994.

At the time, Morton was an executive at Boeing. The company had just completed a new training facility, and Morton had the idea to turn the space into a concert hall and have a celebration for customers.

Wagner wrote a composition and performed it alongside the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra in the Boeing training facility.

“He called it ‘The Miracle’ because he thought it was a miracle that it was taking place,” Morton said.

Wagner ended up turning the composition into a four-movement piece. At Morton’s urging, Wagner performed with the Seattle Symphony for a recorded concert of the work.

Over the years, the pianist and composer has played alongside a cast of colorful characters, from Jay Leno to Bob Hope to Bob Newhart. He toured internationally with former Olympic figure skater Peggy Fleming in “A Concert On Ice.” At Madison Square Garden, where one of the shows was, Wagner recalled walking over 200 feet across the ice to get to his piano.

The Washington state native was, until a few years ago, one of two regular piano players at the historic Canlis restaurant in Seattle. The opportunity, which Wagner had been intending to try out for only a month, ended up turning into a 20-year gig.

“It’s fun being a musician,” Wagner said of the unexpected situation.

Most recently, he formed the Walt Wagner Trio with Dean and Smith. The trio has performed for a few years at Dimitiriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle.

“The trio, it’s just so fun to play with,” Wagner said. “There’s a lot of interplay because we’re improvising but it’s like chamber music, you’re really trying to blend and work with the players in this intimate little group.”

The Walt Wagner Trio will be taking the stage at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 17 at WICA. Tickets are $35 each and can be purchased at wicaonline.org.

With over half of the available tickets already sold — as of Thursday afternoon — it’s bound to be a full house.

“It’s wonderful to have him back. Ticket sales are already strong, so I highly recommend people secure their tickets because this could be a full capacity event,” said Verna Everitt, WICA’s executive director.

With the lifting of Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 restrictions, the performing arts center has the capacity for at least 150 people, but could open up more seats by removing some of the tables in the theater.

Viewers will be able to see an eagle eye’s view of the piano playing thanks to a special “key camera,” which will show overhead footage of the keys being played.

Space is still available for people who want to sponsor the event. A special meet-and-greet with the trio will be held for donors.

The Walt Wagner Trio performing at Dimitiriou’s Jazz Alley in 2019. (Photo provided)

The Walt Wagner Trio performing at Dimitiriou’s Jazz Alley in 2019. (Photo provided)

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