Often described as New Age during the decades when pop and rock dominated the music world, he became a best-selling musician for playing the soothing piano instrument in a style he liked to call “country folk piano”. George Winston died Sunday. He lives in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. he was 74 years old.
His publicist Jesse Cutler said the cause was cancer. Winston, who lived in the Bay Area, has battled several cancers over the years while continuing to record and perform. He credits a 2013 bone marrow transplant with extending his life. Cutler said he was staying in nearby Williamsport, where the tour manager lives.
Winston released his first album, Ballads and Blues, in 1972, but it was his 1980 release on the Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up Windham Hill label that propelled his career. It was “Autumn”. The work, like most of his music, consists of seven of his solo piano pieces inspired by nature. With the simple titles “Ocean”, “Moon” and “Forest”, it appealed to many listeners. Sales soared into the hundreds of thousands.
In his review for Downbeat magazine, Lee Underwood wrote, “By attuning our emotions to the calmness, order and strength of nature rather than the violent, frenzied tones of the modern cityscape, Winston tells us to understand the city.” It provides the perfect auditory and psychological antidote to society.” Insanity. “
Mr. Winston continued the calendar theme on his two 1982 albums, December and Winter into Spring, and again with his 1991 release, Summer. His 1994 record “Forest” won him the Grammy Award for Best New Age His Album, which was a relatively new category at the time, and he was nominated four times.
These nominations were testament to the range of his musical interests. Planes (1999) and Montana: A Love Story (2004) were both nominated for Best New Age Album, while Velveteen Rabbit (1984, by Meryl Streep) ) was nominated for Best Children’s Recording for Narration) and Best Pop Instrumental Album for “Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors” (2002).
Winston recorded two albums of music by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, best known for composing the music for the animated Peanuts television special. In 2012 he released George Winston: Harmonica Solos, and in 1983 he signed his own label, Dancing, to record practitioners of Hawaiian slack key guitar, a genre he particularly admires. Established Cat Records.
He didn’t care at all for the efforts of critics and others to categorize his music and musical interests.
“I think labeling music is the most futile attempt, apart from labeling religion,” he told United Press International in 1984.
George Otis Winston III was born on February 11, 1949 in Hart, Michigan, near Lake Michigan, to George Winston and Mary (Bohannon) Winston. His father was a geologist and his mother an executive secretary.
He was raised in Mississippi, Florida and Montana. He said his years in Montana helped instill a deep appreciation for nature and the changing seasons that would later inspire his music. After leaving the state and living elsewhere, including on the West Coast, he returned occasionally to rejuvenate him.
“I am so grateful to have spent so much time growing up in this beautiful state,” he wrote in his 1989 essay, “The Montana Song,” which appeared on the website. Musically and spiritually, it wouldn’t have been possible to get here without the inspiration and emotion that Montana brings to me today, and the memories of growing up in Montana. “
Mr. Winston had piano lessons as a child, but did not stick to them. The Doors’ debut album in 1967 reawakened his interest in music.
“When I heard the first song on Side 1, ‘Break On Through (to the Other Side),’ it was the best music I’d ever heard,” he said in a 2004 interview.
A performance by Doors organist Ray Manzarek inspired him to take up the organ, playing with a group of students at Stetson University in Florida called the Tapioca Ballroom Band. But in his 1971 he was fascinated by Fats Waller’s recordings of his 1920s and his 30s and decided that the piano was his future.
He studied for a time with Miami jazz pianist James Cazale, but was mostly self-taught.
“He taught me straight through chords, music theory, the basics,” Winston told the Charleston Daily Mail of West Virginia in 2005.
Winston, who has two surviving sisters, said he was also influenced by the music of two New Orleans pianists, Professor Longhair and James Booker. All his influences merged into a style he called country folk piano. The term, as he puts it on his website, is “melodic, uncomplicated in approach, like folk guitar picking and folk songs, and with a country sensibility.”
Critics sometimes found his piano work unsophisticated or repetitive, but he sold millions of albums and captivated enthusiastic audiences wherever he performed. bottom. His concerts usually included charitable elements that benefit food banks and other causes.
Mr. Winston knew his music wasn’t for everyone, and he was self-deprecating about it.
“Punk rock for one person is like singing ‘Om’ or playing the harp for another,” he told California’s Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1982. You don’t want to sit all day listening to me. “
Jay Gabler wrote for the website Your Classical in 2013, summarizing Winston’s charm and skills.
“Love it or hate it, George Winston is the kind of artist who demonstrates just how fertile ground there is to tread the vast open spaces between musical genres,” he wrote.