George Winston

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For other people named George Winston, see George Winston (disambiguation).
George Winston
Born 1949 (age 67–68)
Origin Michigan, U.S.
Genres folk piano, New Orleans R&B piano, Stride piano
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Years active 1972–present
Labels Takoma, Windham Hill, Dancing Cat

George Winston (born 1949) is an American pianist who was born in Michigan and grew up mainly in Montana (Miles City and Billings),[1] as well as Mississippi and Florida. He is best known for his solo piano recordings; several of his albums from the early 1980s have sold millions of copies each. He plays in three styles: the melodic approach he came up with that he calls "rural folk piano"; stride piano, primarily inspired by Thomas "Fats" Waller and Teddy Wilson; and his primary interest, New Orleans R&B piano, influenced by James Booker, Professor Longhair, and Henry Butler.[2]

Early life[edit]

When growing up, Winston's interest in music were instrumentals of R&B, rock, pop, and jazz genres, especially by organists. After hearing The Doors in 1967, he was inspired to start playing the organ. In 1971, he switched to solo piano after hearing stride pianists Thomas "Fats" Waller, Teddy Wilson, and later Earl Hines, Donald Lambert, and Cleo Brown.[3]

Winston attended Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, in the 1960s, where he majored in sociology. While he did not complete his undergraduate degree, following his rise to prominence the university awarded him an honorary doctor of arts degree.[4]


Winston was sixteen years old when the animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered in 1965, and he bought the soundtrack album the next day featuring the music of Vince Guaraldi.[3] He eagerly awaited each new Peanuts special to hear Guaraldi's newest music. In 1996, Winston released Linus and Lucy – The Music of Vince Guaraldi, primarily devoted to the theme music Guaraldi wrote for the Peanuts cartoons: fifteen television specials and one feature film, ranging from 1965 until Guaraldi’s death in 1976. "I love his melodies and his chord progressions," Winston said of Guaraldi. "He has a really personal way of doing voicings."[5] Winston recorded a follow-up album, Love Will Come – The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2, released in February 2010.

Winston was first recorded by John Fahey for Fahey's Takoma Records. The album Ballads and Blues 1972 disappeared without much notice, although it was later reissued on Winston's Dancing Cat Records. In 1979, William Ackerman talked with Winston about recording for Ackerman's new record label, Windham Hill Records. At first, Winston played some guitar pieces he liked and then some of his nighttime music on the piano. These became the basis for the record Autumn, which Ackerman produced. Autumn soon became the best-selling record in the Windham Hill catalog,[3] and his albums December and Winter into Spring both went platinum (million-plus sales in the United States). He has recorded twelve more solo piano albums. He is one of the best known performers playing contemporary instrumental music.[6]

Winston's 2002 album Night Divides the Day – The Music of the Doors consists of solo piano renditions of music by the band The Doors. The title of the album is a lyric from their song "Break on Through (To the Other Side)".[7]

In addition to his piano work, Winston plays solo harmonica (mainly Appalachian fiddle tunes and ballads) and solo acoustic guitar (mainly Appalachian fiddle tunes and Hawaiian slack-key guitar pieces).[8] Both his harmonica and guitar playing can be heard on his benefit album Remembrance - A Memorial Benefit, which was released shortly after 9/11. In 2006, he recorded another benefit album, Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions: A Hurricane Relief Benefit, followed by Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2: A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit in 2012.

Winston also produces recordings of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists for his own record label, Dancing Cat Records, including artists Keola Beamer, Sonny Chillingworth, Leonard Kwan, Dennis Kamakahi, Ray Kane, Cyril Pahinui, Bla Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, Ledward Kaapana, Georg Kuo, Ozzie Kotani, George Kahumoku, Jr., Moses Kahumoku, Cinty Combs, and others.[9] He is also working on recording the American traditional musicians Sam Hinton, Rick Epping, and Curt Bouterse.[10]

Musical and performance style[edit]

Many of Winston’s melodic pieces are self-described as "rural folk piano" or "folk piano", a style he developed in 1971 to complement the uptempo Stride piano he had been inspired to play by Fats Waller’s recordings from the 1920s and 1930s. These melodic pieces evoke the essence of a season and reflect natural landscapes.[11] The third style he plays is New Orleans R&B piano, influenced mainly by James Booker, Professor Longhair, Henry Butler, as well as Dr. John and Jon Cleary.[12]

Winston dresses unassumingly for his shows, playing in stocking feet, stating that it quiets his "hard beat pounding" left foot. For years, the balding, bearded Winston would walk out on stage in a flannel shirt and jeans, and the audience would think he was a technician, coming to tune the 9-foot New York Steinways that are his piano of choice.[13] According to the Austin American Statesman in 2015: "As for his piano playing, Winston remains a master of both tone and invention. Starting with a bluesy tune inspired by Professor Longhair — Winston’s most recent albums have included two Gulf Coast-inspired collections — he proceeded through seasonal favorites 'Rain' (from 1982's Winter Into Spring) and 'Woods' (from 1980’s Autumn). On the latter, he created remarkable 'hollowed' sounds to some notes by reaching inside the piano and muting strings with one hand while striking keys with the other."[14]

On April 19, 2010, he appeared as the sole guest on show 575 of the multimedia WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Twenty minutes into the program he describes an unusual method of playing the piano muting the strings, a development inspired by watching blues guitar players. He can be seen reaching into the piano with his left hand and muting the strings, while with his right hand he is playing "An African in the Americas".[15]

Personal life[edit]

Winston lives in Santa Cruz, California.[16]


Studio albums[edit]

Solo harmonica album[edit]

  • 2013 Harmonica Solos

Benefit EPs and single[edit]

  • 2001 Remembrance - A Memorial Benefit (piano, guitar & harmonica solos)
  • 2013 Silent Night - A Benefit Single for Feeding America
  • 2015 Spring Carousel - A Cancer Research Benefit EP

Soundtrack albums[edit]


  • 1984 The Velveteen Rabbit (solo piano soundtrack with narration by Meryl Streep)
  • 1988 This is America Charlie Brown—The Birth of the Constitution (piano & harpsichord solos)
  • 1995 Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (solo guitar soundtrack with narration by Liv Ullman)
  • 2002 Pumpkin Circle (piano, guitar & harmonica solos, with narration by Danny Glover)
  • 2003 Bread Comes to Life (piano, guitar & harmonica solos, with narration by Lily Tomlin)


  1. ^ Wolfson, Joshua (October 31, 2014). "Music from the north country: Pianist George Winston discusses rural life's musical influence". Casper Star Tribune. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  2. ^ Mannix, Jeff (December 24, 2015). "Want to hear George Winston? Good luck". Durango Herald. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c Baker, Brian (April 13, 2016). "Sound Advice: George Winston". City Beat. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Maples, Tina (20 November 1996). "Music Just Happens To Winston". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  6. ^ Moser, John (April 9, 2015). "Pianist George Winston, playing in Bethlehem, finds inspiration in illness, recovery". Morning Call. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  7. ^ Moser, John. "REVIEW: George Winston at Musikfest Cafe lets his listeners, not himself, feel emotions of music". Morning Call (April 16, 2015). Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  8. ^ Gabler, Jay (December 24, 2013). "'Folk piano' by way of John Cage: George Winston defies musical stereotypes". Classicalmpr. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  9. ^ Kohlhaase, Bill (October 6, 1999). "Jazz George Winston's Hawaiian Getaway". LA Times. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  10. ^ "Pianist George Winston to perform in Libby". Western News. May 20, 2016. Retrieved 30 June 2016. 
  11. ^ Dickens, Tad (April 1, 2016). "George Winston brings 'folk piano' style to Harvester". Roanoke Times. Retrieved 30 June 2016. 
  12. ^ "George Winston Brings His Unique Piano Style to the Firehouse". The Independent. June 23, 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  13. ^ Dee, Lyons (January 24, 1986). "George Winston: Playing It Low-Key At TCCC". The Dallas Morning News. 
  14. ^ Blackstock, Peter (February 19, 2015). "George Winston shows versatility at One World Theatre". Austin360. Retrieved 14 July 2016. 
  15. ^ WoodSongs archive page Archived March 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Scroll down to show 575.
  16. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Biography: George Winston". Allmusic. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 

External links[edit]