George Winston talks about the healing power of music before concert

November 13, 2018 - 1885 views

George Winston can’t think about music.

“For me, a song has to just happen,” Winston said. “I can’t try to think it into existence. Something will appeal to the ear, and I’ll try different things with it until I get it into a shape I like.”

Sometimes the process yields a melody that hasn’t the requisite staying power and gets abandoned. Other songs might end up completed, but in a way that their creator never expected.

“There’s one song on my last album, ‘Pixie No. 13,’ that took me a year to be able to play,” Winston said. “I had thought it up, but to play it as I heard it took me about year. It was just that it took some different techniques with the right and left hands that I’d never done before. There were times when I wondered if I would ever be able to play it.”

But Winston managed to conquer his own composition, which is one of the 15 tracks on his 2017 album, “Spring Carousel.”

While the album could be seen as the final piece in the string of “seasonal” albums of solo piano music Winston has released over the course of 40 years, including the best-selling “Autumn” and “December,” the true impetus for the record was because of a health crisis.

In 2012, Winston was in the middle of a concert in Idaho when he began having trouble. He made it through the performance, but immediately afterward had to be taken to an emergency room. Winston was suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer in which blood cells do not properly mature.

Winston was later transferred to City of Hope, a cancer treatment facility in California, where he underwent a bone marrow transplant.

“Not only does it provide great treatment,” said Winston, “but it has this kind of village atmosphere. While I was there, I was given access to the piano in the hospital’s auditorium. I started out practicing to get myself ready for upcoming concerts, but soon I started coming up with these songs.”

In all, Winston recorded close to 60 individual songs, from which he selected the 15 on “Spring Carousel.”

“Maybe it was because of the atmosphere and energy of the place or my own experiences there,” he said of this particularly fecund period of creativity. “Actually, the hardest part of creating this album was selecting the songs to include and getting the sequence right.”

Winston first came to national attention when he joined the label Windham Hill to release “Autumn,” an album of solo piano works that to some epitomized the “new age” label — a distinction that Winston himself rejects, preferring his own description of “rural folk piano.”

“I got interested in music in 1967, when I first heard the Doors,” Winston said. “I said I needed to get an organ and join a band. I did that for about four years, then I heard a recording by Fats Waller, and thought, ‘That’s it. Solo piano. That’s what I need to do.’

“That led me to the great New Orleans pianists, such as James Booker and Professor Longhair, who became maybe my greatest influences,” Winston said.

Winston said his concert in Claremore will draw from the complete range of his music.

“There will be a few pieces from the new album, along with some music by Vince Guaraldi, who’s best known for the music he did for the ‘Peanuts’ TV specials,” Winston said. “And there’ll be a little New Orleans and rhythm & blues tunes. These shows are really all about where I’m at musically at this moment.”



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