Blake Angelos: Jazz piano for the soul

by Scot Casey

It is a typical Tuesday night at the Bellwether: Blake Angelos is playing an achingly beautiful interpretation of the jazz standard “I’m Through With Love.” Accompanying him is bassist Rene Worst and drummer Julian MacDonough. It is one of those happy instances of music in Bellingham where you feel privileged and fortunate to be in the audience. Here in the richly appointed lounge, listening to Blake Angelos play through the standards, you know you have found a hidden gem in the weekly music scene.

Blake has been in Bellingham for over 14 years, playing solo or as The Blake Angelos Trio. Recently, he has been performing at the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center.

“It’s a great gift to have the opportunity to play solo piano as much as I do and I don’t take that for granted,” Blake Angelos said. PHOTO BY SARAH DAY

“It’s a great gift to have the opportunity to play solo piano as much as I do and I don’t take that for granted,” Blake Angelos said. PHOTO BY SARAH DAY

“Jud Sherwood has me on some of his concerts as well with his Jazz Project which continues to be a great program for jazz musicians in Bellingham. I have one coming up with him in the fall with a great vocalist from Seattle named Gail Pettis with my friend and great bassist Jeff Johnson. Just think – we have two vibrant non-profits for creative music in Bellingham.  How cool is that?” he said.

Angelos also regularly plays his friend and vocalist Rane Nogales, and has performed and recorded with local singer-songwriter Havilah Rand.

He says that one of the challenges of playing jazz regularly is finding a way to make it accessible to everyone. “It’s a great gift to have the opportunity to play solo piano as much as I do and I don’t take that for granted. I am always adding new songs to my repertoire from jazz standards to classic pop like the Beatles, and more contemporary stuff like Radiohead, Soundgarden, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel.”

Regardless of the song, there is always a unique subtlety, a quiet complexity, to Blake’s playing: jazz runs curling back into smoky blues riffs that just break the heart.

“My Dad played lots of music like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, the Mills Brothers, so I grew up listening to the music but growing up in Billings, Montana wasn’t super conducive to studying jazz,” Angelos said of his earlier experiences with jazz. “I did take piano lessons, played and sang in rock bands and was in choir in high school, but I really started playing jazz when I went to college in Wyoming and studied with the jazz band director there, a great educator named Neil Hansen.”

It was at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, Blake said, “where I first really dove into jazz.” In between semesters of studying music theory and composition, he played in the summers with a trio at Glacier National Park.

He added, “the cool thing about Northwest College is it’s right next to Yellowstone Park and attracts lots of people who retire and move out there. One of the guys who retired was a swinging drummer named Ronnie Bedford who moved out to Wyoming from NYC. He was really instrumental in hipping me to lots of music and the stylistic elements of jazz.”

Angelos moved to Seattle in the early 90s. “I was working in a music store there and played a lot of gigs with a bunch of Seattle jazz artists for a few years,” he said.

In 1994, Blake started working for Yamaha. “I found the Yamaha work really engaging and fun and decided to leave college, moved back to Seattle, worked at Microsoft for about a year and a half, then became full-time with Yamaha where I have been ever since,” he shared. “All this time I have played and studied jazz primarily but really everything else as well. My job at Yamaha keeps me dialed in to all sorts of different musical genres.”

Attracted by the music scene, Angelos moved to Bellingham in 2000. “There are some great venues around – like the Wild Buffalo, the Redlight, the Green Frog, to name a few. And Jim Haupt, the manager at the Bellwether hotel, has been amazingly supportive to live jazz in Bellingham,” he said. “The fan base and support of this community is amazing. It is awesome to live in this town for that reason. I travel constantly all over the U.S. and it is exceptional in that regard compared to other places around the country.”

SHOW TIME: Hear Blake Angelos play solo jazz piano every Friday and Saturday night at the Bellwether from 6 to 9 p.m., and every Tuesday as a trio featuring Julian MacDonough from 5 to 8 pm. 

Published in the January 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine