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The fire still burns

Winston returns to one of his favorite venues, with no shortage of inspiration

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Many self-anointed historians insist that, true to the song American Pie, the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper was the day the music died.

George Winston begs to differ.

Yes, the same George Winston who has built a following for three decades with his piano renditions, inspired by jazz, folk, Hawaiian and other music legends.

For Winston, that cataclysmic moment in history came in 1971.

The day Jim Morrison died, I turned off the radio and quit listening, Winston says. I totally lost interest in contemporary music. After that, I only paid attention to Cajun, Hawaiian, Appalachian, Celtic.

Not that Winston ever forgot Morrison and The Doors. His affection for their music ran so deep that, in 2002, he broke away from his usual presentations to record a CD (Night Divides the Day) of arrangements from The Doors meteoric ride.

Winstons favorite is the groups biggest hit, Light My Fire, but for different reasons than most. Instead of the familiar chorus, Winston reveres the long version including back-to-back, captivating solos by keyboardist Ray Manzarek followed by guitarist Robby Krieger. Those solos influenced his arrangement for the album.

You know, its a 40-year relationship that many of us have with that song, Winston says.

Since recording it, though, Winston has moved on. He plays about 110 concerts a year all kinds of venues and pianos, though he prefers to have a 9-foot New York Steinway on stage.

It fits what I do, Winston says, though theyre kinda like cats every one has its own personality. But whatevers there, Ill make it work.

For Winston, the cities and shows dont all run together. He keeps a journal of playlists for each concert, making sure not to be repetitious when he returns where he has previously played.

He also has favorite performing halls, and the Pikes Peak Center ranks in his highest echelon. On his first visit, 20 years ago, he spent much of the night telling the audience how much he appreciated the setting.

Its one of the best, absolutely, Winston says. The acoustics are amazing. I still remember that first time there, in December 1987. You dont get acoustics like that very often. In fact, its pretty rare, and its a luxury when it happens. I always look forward to going back to the Springs.

On this tour, Winston is playing from his Gulf Coast release of 2006 (a benefit for Katrina victims), mixed with his Summer material, the familiar Vince Guaraldi works (Peanuts) and solo guitar, which he regularly incorporates into his repertoire.

As he nears 60, Winston hasnt lost his zest for combining original work with personalized arrangements. Occasionally hell pick up on a popular song, such as Sarah McLachlans Angel or Garth Brooks The Dance, and recently he was impressed by John Mayers Waiting on the World to Change.

I heard that, and he was playing chords out of Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield. I said, What is this? This is something I havent been hearing. Chords are like flavors in a soup a little garlic, a little onion

"I need songs, always adding and subtracting, inflow and outflow. Some of them wear out unless you come up with a lot of improv.

routon@csindy.com

George Winston

Thursday, July 19, 7 p.m.

Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.

Tickets: $23-$36; call 520-SHOW (7469), or visit ticketswest.com, King Soopers, World Arena or the Pikes Peak Center.

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