George Winston Dies: The Titan of Solo Piano Instrumental Music Was 73 Years Old


George WinstonOne of the world’s best-selling instrumental pianists in his heyday in the 1980s and ’90s, he died Sunday at the age of 73. The announcement came via his social media and website, and he said ten years later he “left from this world without pain while he was asleep.” long battle with cancer.

“George has bravely managed serious cancers, including a successful bone marrow transplant for Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) in 2013 at the City of Hope in Duarte, California, and gratefully extended his life by 10 years,” the announcement said. “George continued to write and record new music throughout his cancer treatment and remained true to his greatest passion: performing for live audiences, raising money for Feeding America to help fight the national hunger crisis, and donating the proceeds from each of his concerts. to their banks.”

Winston began his career by performing what he called “folk piano,” but at the height of this instrumental movement in later years it was sometimes categorized as part of the New Age genre and even fell into the classical category, although he avoided any of these labels. He recorded his first solo piano album, “Ballads and Blues” on the Folkways label in 1972, but didn’t become a household name until they released the seasonally themed “Autumn” and “December” in 1980 and 1982, respectively.

It went on to sell more than 15 million albums, according to representatives. Winston won a Grammy for “The Jungle” and was nominated five more times. His 16th and final album “Night” was released by RCA Records in May 2022.

“December” became the best-selling album due to its recognition as a Christmas album and was certified triple platinum in the US. It was one of those albums that put the Windham Hill label on the map. He also had two more platinum albums in the early 80’s (“Autumn” and “Winter Into Spring”). His success continued in the ’90s, with three more albums winning gold medals: “Summer”, “Forest” and a tribute album “Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi.”

Winston’s interests went beyond the piano, as he also released acoustic guitar and harmonica recordings. In fact, he founded his own label, Dancing Cat Records, largely out of his interest in releasing albums by artists playing Hawaiian slack-key guitars. (He also released his own self-published albums through Windham Hill and later through RCA until the mid-2000s.) However, he will forever be predominantly identified as one of the most celebrated pianists of the 20th century.

“I found the melodic style I play in 1971 and have always called it ‘Folk Piano’ (or rather ‘Rural Folk Piano’) because it is melodic and not as complicated as folk guitar picking. . and folk songs and have a rural sensibility,” she wrote on her website. “When ‘Autumn’ was released in 1980, I was first sometimes mistakenly labeled classical at first, but… I have no classical influence… At that time I was sometimes mistakenly labeled jazz, but I don’t play jazz either. “I am inspired by the jazz traditions and my main focus in the organ was jazz before I switched to piano in 1971)” he said.

The New Age genre was not a genre he identified with either. “All other labels, including philosophical, spiritual, or anything related to any belief, are also not correct, because I have no interest in these matters. I play songs as much as I can, inspired by seasons, topographies and regions, and sometimes sociological elements, and as a player over time. I am trying to improve.

Less well-known of Winston’s dominant style was his interest in New Orleans-style R&B piano, and he even claimed that 90% of the songs he played were in this style – “mostly played in solo piano dances that I did” – this rarely happened. typically forms the basis of quieter recordings.

In contrast, he said that although “most of the songs on my recordings are in this style,” he dedicates only about 10% of his playing to folk piano. Winston described folk piano as a result of his early interest in American folk music, along with R&B and rock. Before I developed this style in 1971, “I was mainly working on the step piano and wanted something that was complementary, melodic and simpler and using the extension sound of the piano that I loved … Nature, not Urban in the Countryside.”

Winston preferred to play in intimate venues as he despised empowerment. “I like full acoustic sound and play better that way, and I don’t like microphone sound in terms of the way I play. I’m a little influenced by the sound of electronic instruments, but I reflect those effects on acoustic instruments,” he wrote. “The best situation for me is a very small hall with no microphones at all.”

When he released his last album “Night” last year, he described it as a concept album, as he did with many of his recordings. “There’s a natural wonder that only happens in the evening,” Winston wrote, “and ‘Night’ basically scales the clock from midnight to 7 am. The sun hits the earth all day, warming the oceans and forests and waking most of the earth’s inhabitants, and at sunset it’s nighttime. animals wake up for their nocturnal activities and have feelings of loneliness and uncertainty. All this translates well to provide inspiration for compositions and interpretations of other composers’ works. The album included Hawaiian material and originals, as well as interpretations of songs by Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro and Allen Toussaint .

While recording Cohen’s “Hallelujah” may seem old hat to some artists, Winston approached him as a newcomer on the 2022 album and was surprisingly unaware of the melody until he followed suit. “Actually, I don’t even have a relationship with that song,” Winston said. report Last time of last year. “The engineer played it for me in the studio. I’ve never heard of it. I wrote the chords, then played it twice. I went in, recorded two takes and loved this one the most. I treated it as a slow dance piece. I have no idea what the song is about. What it means I don’t even know where it comes from and I certainly can’t spell it.

He continued to tour until the end of 2022 and has booked dates beyond 2023. He may leave some records behind after his death; Winston said last year that he will release his third album of Vince Guaraldi songs in 2023.

Winston’s one sister, niece and nephew survived. The family said they held a special memorial service.

Fans who wish to donate in his memory are directed to Feeding America, City of Hope Cancer Center, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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