The seeds of Winston's self-described Rural Folk Piano style were planted at age 16 when he heard Vince Guaraldi's distinctive score to A Charlie Brown Christmas, and were harvested when, already a fan of R&B, Rock and Jazz instrumental music, he heard the first Doors album and was inspired to begin playing the organ. At 22, he became enamored of the stride piano work of Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson and switched to piano. A year later, he recorded his debut album, Piano Solos, for John Fahey's Takoma Records, an album that produced barely a ripple as it sank.
Seven years later and primarily guided by the New Orleans sound of Professor Longhair and Dr. John, Winston gave his demo tape to William Ackerman, a guitarist who had just founded his own label, Windham Hill. Ackerman played the tape for several people on his subsequent European tour and was amazed at their reaction to it. He signed Winston and produced his sophomore album, Autumn, which went on to become one of Winston's (and the label's) biggest albums, achieving multi-platinum status and continuing to be a reliable catalog seller.
Since then, Winston has amassed a huge global fan base and released a string of beloved instrumental albums, among them two volumes covering the work of Vince Guaraldi and an album of Doors covers, as well as seasonal companions to his Windham Hill debut (Winter Into Spring, December, Summer), an atypical album of harmonica solos and three benefit releases, including one for cancer research, a subject close to Winston's heart as he is a cancer survivor himself. Winston has been unfairly lumped in with the New Age aural wallpaper that Windham Hill produced over the years, which is sad because, for a solo pianist, there are few who are as engaging and inventive; he'll actually reach into the piano and mute strings while he plays, an old guitarist's trick.
George Winston is an unassuming figure in flannel shirt and jeans, but when he sits down at his Steinway, his genius fills a room like a rising tide.
Winston will play an intimate show this Thursday, Dec. 12 at Clifton's Ludlow Garage. Tickets are $25-$85. Find more concert info here.