- Steve Lankford
- Man for all seasons: Winston's platinum Autumn album made the charts safe for piano music.
When pianist George Winston went into the studio to record his 1980 breakthrough album Autumn, he had no idea it would create a perception that's followed him for decades. The inaugural release for Will Ackerman's Windham Hill label, the instrumental album went platinum and saddled Winston with the nickname, "Father of New Age," a tag he's quite happy to disavow.
"I have nothing to do with that, and I have a vasectomy anyway," Winston says with a laugh. "That's a misnomer. I have nothing to do with anything spiritual. I just play the song. It's kind of like if someone called you Jim, and that's not your name. I don't know where that came from. I don't even know what it is."
Indeed Winston's inspirations go well beyond navel-gazing. He forsook playing organ after getting turned on to the stride piano stylings of Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson. Winston never looked back and went on to become a self-described "rural folk pianist."
For this current tour, Winston is performing what he calls a "spring show," which will feature him playing solo on his trademark 9-foot Steinway. It will include Guaraldi's "Peanuts" pieces as well as stride piano, folk piano and New Orleans-influenced music. Or as he puts it, "kind of a mixture of where I'm coming from musically."
Winston also devotes a good deal of his talent and energy to numerous charitable causes. Proceeds from CDs sold at his shows go to local food kitchens, and concert attendees are always encouraged to bring canned food to donate to them. He's also recorded a string of benefit EPs and albums to help out those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks (Remembrance – A Memorial Benefit), victims of Hurricane Katrina (Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions: A Hurricane Relief Benefit) and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2: A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit).
And while some may view his unerring willingness to support charitable causes as being slightly New Agey in itself, Winston is very matter-of-fact about why he chooses to help out in this manner.
"My job is to try and clean up a mess after it happens," he says. "I'm not really a changer or preventer. Stuff happens and I try to do something like a benefit to help out."
True to form, Winston's latest release is the two-CD Spring Carousel – A Cancer Research Benefit, from which 100 percent of his artist royalties will go to benefit research on a disease for which he himself has been treated in the past.
Meanwhile, Winston's upcoming recording projects include a two-CD version of his Spring Carousel EP, a follow-up to 2002's Night Divides the Day – The Music of the Doors, and a long-planned tribute to New Orleans piano legend Professor Longhair. Which is not to say that he'll be keeping to a strict schedule.
"Some things take a long time," he says. "It's really just like watching the weather. When it snows, we do certain things. And when it rains, we do certain things. It's kind of like reacting to what the music tells me to do."