STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
One of America’s most treasured contemporary instrumentalists, pianist, guitarist and harmonica player George Winston personifies a musical passion, creativity and vision that will be revered for generations.
A self-proclaimed enthusiast of the seasons as well as topography, Winston celebrates the passage of time with his “Winter Show” concert tour. Performing songs that evoke fall and winter, Winston will feature pieces by Vince Guaraldi, one of his greatest inspirations, with the classic songs of “The Peanuts.” The evening will also feature inspiration from the New Orleans piano and stride piano traditions as well as songs from Winston’s upcoming 2015 album release, “Spring Carousel — A Cancer Research Benefit.”
“Every song I’ve ever heard that has stayed with me has always reminded me of a season or topography,” said George Winston from his home in Santa Cruz, Calif. “I never compose a song on purpose. I get intellectual after I come up with something. I’ll write down the chords and then something happens every so often, and I’ll go, ‘Yeah, that’s it — reminds me of winter.’ You know, it has season and a place with it.”
Gravitating to instrumental R&B, rock, pop and jazz, the sounds of Floyd Cramer, the Ventures and Booker T & The MG’s first caught the attention of teenager George Winston. But, it was the unique sound of “The Doors” in 1967 that really ignited a fire under Winston and inspired him to play the organ.
Redirecting his passion to the piano after hearing Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines and Fats Waller, Winston expanded his creative reach into New Orleans R&B piano and the works of Professor Longhair, Jon Cleary and Dr. John.
Developing a style in the early 70’s that he describes as “rural folk piano” or “folk piano” to compliment his up-tempo stride piano, Winston channeled his passion for seasonal change and the beauty of natural landscapes into his musical compositions.
Winston was signed to John Fahey’s Takoma Records and his 1972 debut album, “Ballads and Blues,” garnered moderate attention and officially launched his professional career.
When approached by new age music visionary Will Ackerman of Windham Hill Records, Winston signed a new recording contract. His 1980 debut album “Autumn” was a commercial success and earned the distinction as the best selling album in the Windham Hill catalog.
Remaining with Windham Hill through 2001, Winston released the critically acclaimed albums “Winter into Spring” and “December” (1982), both of which went platinum, “Summer” (1991), “Forest” (1994), “Linus and Lucy — The Music of Vince Guaraldi” (1996), “All The Season” (1998), “Plains” (1999) and “Remembrance – A Memorial Benefit” (2001).
Routinely performing in stocking feet so as not to disrupt his performance while pounding his feet on the stage, Winston has nothing but admiration for his live audience.
“To me, the goal is to get a flow to get the song streaming along,” said Winston. “Let the song say what it wants to say. Each listener is a unique person. I just play the songs as well as I can, and whatever somebody does with that is really up to them. My job is to try to improve over time. I’m always looking to get better. It’s almost like songs are like cats. They do what they want to do, not what I tell them.”
After forming Dancing Cat Records in 1983, Winston recorded a number of musicians that impressed him as those whose music needed to be preserved for posterity.
Winston also released a collection of his own solo efforts, “Night Divides the Day – The Music of the Doors” (2002), “Montana – A Love Story” (2005), “Love Will Come – The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2” (2010) and “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions: A Hurricane Relief Benefit” (2006) and “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2: A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit” (2012). The last two recordings are to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina and The Voice of the Wetlands.
“I’m not really a natural player,” says Winston. “I’m more of a natural listener. Everyday that I’m not touring, I’m in the studio. There’s always something to work on. Most of the pieces that I play were not solo piano pieces to begin with. There will be a different key, a different tempo, a different approach to make it work as solo piano. It’s ‘now, how do you make that work?’”
“Some songs take a lot of work,” added Winston. “Some songs I still haven’t resolved yet. “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” by the Doors — after 47 years, I still haven’t got it down. It might end up that the song is [for me] to be inspired by and not to play, but I love it.”
Since the mid 80’s, Winston has been working with food banks throughout the country to provide food for those less fortunate and to draw attention to the problem of hunger. In addition to collecting canned goods at his concerts, he often donates his merchandise sales proceeds to the cause.
“Starting in 1986, I decided I wanted to interact with the community in a way, not just through music, but what’s going to fit in,” says Winston, “and I decided on the food bank. I figured someone down on his or her luck could sleep in a sleeping bag or in a car. You can get water from a fountain or a river or even gather the rain. But food — where are you going to get it legally? You have to steal it or farm it. I realized that people could start fixing themselves up if they could get a meal. So many food banks are doing great work. They’re all over the place. All I have to do is plug in with them. Everybody helping each other out — we all need it at one time or another. It’s a nice thing to give some visibility, and it doesn’t interfere with the show. If somebody wants to contribute in that way, it’s there.
In December of 2013, Winston released the digital single “Silent Night — A Benefit for Feeding America,” which is available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated to Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks that feeds 37 million people.
Winston’s latest, digital only release, “Spring Carousel – A Cancer Research EP,” features three songs from George’s upcoming album, Spring Carousel – A Cancer Research Benefit,” planned for release in 2015. Winston composed this collection of melodic solo piano songs while recovering from a bone marrow transplant at City of Hope in 2013. All proceeds go to benefit City of Hope and cancer research.
“What I want to do as a musician is provide a soundtrack,” says Winston. “Life is the film, and I’m doing the soundtrack.”
IF YOU GO
What: George Winston
Where: The Sellersville Theatre, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
When: Concert is at 8 p.m., Monday, Dec. 1.
Admission: Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or online at www.st94.com.
Info.: To stay up to date with George Winston, visit www.georgewinston.com.
Please join us in support of the local food bank at Pennridge FISH by bringing a donation of a canned good or nonperishable food. There will be a collection taking place in the lobby.