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George Winston Visits Homer: Solo Pianist has New Album, Concert Helps Food Pantry

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Todd V. Wolfson
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jpcutler media

George Winston might be best known for his piano recordings and concerts.  But the musician, who visits Central New York this weekend, is a multi-instrumentalist with a history of helping others. 

Many music fans might remember the signature playing of George Winston made popular by albums such as Autumn and December. 

Winston is now touring with a Sunday Stop in Homer in support of a new album, Restless Wind.  It includes his workings of songs by Stephen Stills, Sam Cooke, the Gershwins and others … along with a new composition, Autumn Wind.

 “Over time (the songs) just all got to fit the piano, fit he different ways I play.  I kind of have a unique relationship with these songs I play.” 

He remembers hearing music that inspired him.

“Early in 1967 when the first Doors album came out, I was a fan of organists and I got that record just because it said they had an organist.  And I put it on and said, ‘this is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.  I’ve got to get an organ and play in a band.’  Four years later I heard Fats Waller’s piano recordings from the 20’s and 30’s and I realized, ‘oh, solo piano, not organ in a band.’”

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Credit Todd V. Wolfson / jpcutler media
Winston's new album, Restless Wind, has songs from Stephen Stills, The Doors, Sam Cooke, George and Ira Gershwin and others

That solo piano took off in popularity with Autumn and December and other records.  Piano is not Winston’s only outlet for his creativity. 

He also plays guitar and harmonica. 

“Well, I’m basically a song player by temperament and a solo-instrumentalist by temperament, so these three instruments you can play solo and have your own accompaniment.  If a song doesn’t work on one instrument, it may work on another.”

He says his process basically has three elements.  He’ll find a song he likes – or compose one – then work on it, sometimes for years.

“Of course I always study the original piece and if that composer has different versions … I’ll look at those as well.  And the instrument I’m playing it on, what are the limitations of that instrument or the strengths. And then who am I; what do I want to do with it?”

“I usually don’t wind up doing things note-for-note, although sometimes I do.  When I did an album of Doors pieces in 2002, I used Ray Manzarek’s organ solo and Robbie Krieger’s guitar solo, I played those note for note. … And a Vince Guaraldi song called Skating, I add some things to it, but I do his solo note for note; it’s just perfect.”

Winston focuses a good deal of his work and talent on helping others.  He’s played concerts and recorded albums to benefit flooding victims in New Orleans and Houston, helped out with hunger and cancer causes … when it’s a fit.

“The music has to come to me … like, ‘Oh, I can help this way and here’s all these songs.’  Everybody wants to help when something happens.  This is the best way I can but the music has to be there to do a benefit album.”

His concert in Homer will benefit the Salvation Army through food donations brought by the audience and C-D sales there.  And despite the 16 albums he has out, he does love to play live.

“Well live experience is the reason I play.  Records are a secondary thing that, like I said, when something emerges then I’ll record those songs.  Another difference is: a record I want to be done, a concert I don’t’ want it to be done.  I don’t want it to be finished.”

His concert this Sunday is at the Homer Center for the  Arts starting at 8:00 p.m.