Friday, December 1, 2023

George Winston, pianist of pastoral scenes, has died at 73 : NPR

George Winston performs onstage on the Nation Music Corridor of Fame in Nashville in 2019.

Jason Davis/Getty Photos for NAMM

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Jason Davis/Getty Photos for NAMM

George Winston performs onstage on the Nation Music Corridor of Fame in Nashville in 2019.

Jason Davis/Getty Photos for NAMM

George Winston, a pianist whose profitable recordings made him one of many first stars of recent age music, died June 4 in California after a decadeslong battle with most cancers. His dying was introduced on his web site and social media accounts. He was 73.

Promoting greater than 15 million albums worldwide, Winston turned synonymous with a particular, extremely imitated taste of solo piano: heat, melodic and pastoral. His popularity was largely constructed on a sequence of blockbuster instrumental albums for the pioneering new age label Windham Hill Data. Specifically, his 1980 album Autumn and its follow-ups, 1982’s Winter into Spring and December, all platinum-selling releases, are thought of cornerstones of the style.


The pianist himself by no means used the “new age” classification for his music. “I’ve all the time known as it ‘Folks Piano’ (or extra precisely ‘Rural Folks Piano’),” he wrote within the FAQ on his web site, “since it’s melodic and never sophisticated in its strategy, like folks guitar choosing and folks songs, and has a rural sensibility.”

However whereas that sound dominated his recordings, it solely scratched the floor of his musical pursuits. Winston all the time claimed that his true ardour was for R&B, impressed by New Orleans’ postwar piano sound and the Harlem stride custom.


Whereas many listeners heard classical foundations in his enjoying, Winston had neither coaching nor curiosity in classical music. Born in Hart, Mich., in 1949 and raised in Montana, Winston was drawn to the organ after listening to the rock band The Doorways in 1967. His investigation of Doorways organist Ray Manzarek’s roots led him to jazz participant Jimmy Smith, and in flip to the stride piano of Fat Waller — who impressed Winston to change to piano in 1971.

His 1973 debut album, Piano Solos (later re-released as Ballads and Blues), was recorded by folks guitarist John Fahey and had a extra identifiable folks sound. By the point Winston signed with Windham Hill and launched Autumn in 1980, he had a glossier type that eradicated the folksy twang and included the stride piano strategy of left-hand bass patterns towards right-hand melody. It was a shock hit, which Winston replicated with a sequel season-themed album Winter into Spring and the vacation report December. Collectively, the three recordings helped to launch the business success of what turned generally known as new age — and made Windham Hill the style’s flagship label. He would report 13 extra solo piano albums, with 1994’s Forest profitable a Grammy Award for greatest new age album.

Winston spent a lot of the ’70s finding out New Orleans pianists Henry Butler, James Booker and Professor Longhair. Whereas his extra pastoral and melodic music made him a star on data, he would usually insert these pianists’ songs, and his personal originals impressed by them, into his albums and stay performances. “The overwhelming majority of songs, about 90% I play, are on this type,” he wrote. He recorded two profit albums of what he known as “Gulf Coast Blues and Impressions.”

Winston additionally performed harmonica and guitar, recording an album of solos on the previous in 2012 and incorporating the guitar into his profit data. On the latter instrument, he recognized with the Hawaiian “slack-key” guitar custom. Dancing Cat Data, the label Winston based in 1983, turned a key discussion board for the slack-key guitarists of the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance. It issued albums by Keola Beamer, Ledward Kaapana and Cyril Pahinui and is credited with introducing the type to listeners exterior Hawaii.

Winston’s battle with most cancers started in 2013, when he was identified with myelodysplastic syndrome and underwent a profitable bone marrow transplant to fight the illness. He subsequently underwent remedy for thyroid and pores and skin most cancers. His final album, Night time, was launched in spring 2022, however worsening well being compelled him to cancel most of his performances in assist of the album.

Winston is survived by his sister, Nancy Winston Kahumoku, and a niece and nephew. The household will maintain a non-public memorial service.

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