Paul Winter

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Paul Winter
Clearwater Festival, 2007
Clearwater Festival, 2007
Background information
Born (1939-08-31) August 31, 1939 (age 80)
Altoona, Pennsylvania, U.S.
GenresJazz, new-age
Years active1961–present
LabelsColumbia, A&M, Epic, Living Music
Associated actsPaul Winter Consort, Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, Oregon

Paul Winter (born August 31, 1939) is an American saxophonist, composer and bandleader. A seven-time Grammy Award-winner, he is recognized as one of the pioneers of the world music genre, and also for his genre of “earth music,” which interweaves the voices of the greater symphony of the wild with instrumental voices from classical, jazz and world music traditions.[1] The music is often improvised, and recorded in natural acoustic spaces, to reflect the qualities and instincts brought into play by the environment. With his various ensembles—the Paul Winter Sextet, the Paul Winter Consort, and the Earth Band—he has recorded more than 40 albums, and performed in 52 countries and six continents.

Early life[edit]

Paul Winter was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a railroad town with a strong musical culture supporting a symphony, marching bands, jazz bands, and dance bands. Winter studied piano and clarinet, and then fell in love with saxophone in the fourth grade. He started “The Little German Band” with his schoolmates when he was twelve, then a Dixieland band, and finally a nine-piece dance band known as “The Silver Liners.” He became enthralled with big band music, and by the small be-bop groups of the 1950s. After graduating from Altoona Area High School in 1957, he spent the summer on a tour of state fairs the mid-west with the conductor and members of the Ringling Brothers Circus Band.

The Paul Winter Sextet[edit]

A student at Northwestern University (he majored in English Composition), Winter spent time in the jazz clubs of Chicago. In 1961, his jazz sextet won the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival and was signed by Columbia Records. Winter had been accepted to the University of Virginia Law School but postponed those plans when, the next year, the Sextet was sent on a six-month a goodwill tour of Latin America as cultural ambassadors for the United States State Department, playing 160 concerts in 23 countries. The success of this tour led to an invitation by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to play at the White House.[2] The Sextet’s performance in the East Room on November 19, 1962, happened to be the first ever jazz concert in the White House.[3]

The Sextet had spent a month in Brazil during the tour, at the time that a new genre of music called bossa nova was blossoming there. Following its return to the US, the group recorded an album of bossa nova.[4] In the mid-1960s, Winter lived for a year in Brazil. It became a second home for him and he recorded several albums there. Rio was released in 1965, with liner notes by Vinicius de Moraes.

The Paul Winter Consort[edit]

Brazilian guitar, Afro-Brazilian percussion, and the symphonic music of Villa-Lobos inspired Winter to create a new ensemble in 1967, as a forum for the increasingly diverse music he wanted to explore. He intended for the group to give ensemble playing and soloing equal importance, and analogous to a pure democracy, where every voice counted, and where there would be equal commitment to the wellbeing of the whole and to the expression of each individual within it. Winter called the group Paul Winter Consort, borrowing the name "consort" from the ensembles of Shakespeare’s time, the housebands of the Elizabethan Theater, which adventurously blended woodwinds, strings and percussion, the same families of instruments he wanted to combine in his contemporary consort. With this group, he became one of the earliest exponent’s of world music.[5]

Hearing recordings of the songs of Humpback Whales in 1968 further expanded Winter’s musical community. The voices of the whales not only opened the door to the whole symphony of nature, but turned Winter into an activist, changing the course of his musical life. Winter’s landmark album Common Ground, in 1977, was his first endeavor to incorporate the voices of whale, eagle and wolf into his music.

The Consort recorded twelve albums for major labels during the 1960s and ’70s. Four albums for A & M were produced by Paul Stookey and Phil Ramone. Astronauts of Apollo 15 took the Consort’s album Road to the moon with them and named two craters after the songs “Ghost Beads” and “Icarus.” The Icarus album was recorded for Epic and produced by Beatles mentor George Martin, who claimed in his autobiography it was ”the finest record I ever made.” Consort members Ralph Towner (guitar), Paul McCandless (oboe and English horn), Glen Moore (bass), and Collin Walcott (percussion) who worked on this album went on to form the jazz group Oregon. The Consort continues, having evolved with different musicians over the years.

In the early 1980s, Winter began traveling to Russia. In 1984 he ventured as far as Lake Baikal in Siberia, where he found such beauty that it lured him back many times to help raise awareness about the threats facing Russia’s sacred sea and its significance as a symbol in the growing environmental movement. Also in 1984, he met poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The two became good friends, and gave music and poetry tours together.

Winter took part in the UN’s Beyond War Spacebridge and other efforts to join Russian and American people in peaceful collaborations. On a tour of the Soviet Union in 1986, the Consort met the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble when they performed together a concert at Moscow University. The two groups felt an immediate kinship, and the following year recorded the album EarthBeat in Moscow and New York — the first album of original music created by Americans and Russians together.[6]

The Paul Winter Consort was "houseband" for twelve of the biennial Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festivals, improvising music to accompany poets such as Marie Howe, Stanley Kunitz, Mark Doty, and Vikram Seth.

Living Music Label[edit]

Icarus was recorded in the summer of 1971 in the unhurried, unpressured atmosphere of a rented house near the sea, an experience, which underscored the importance of establishing a place where Winter could nourish his music and his community. Annual visits to the exemplary Maine homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing ( also inspired him to find land of his own where he could really live his music. In 1980 Winter founded his own label, Living Music Records, as a forum for his developing musical-ecological sound-vision. The name alludes to his primary intentions of striving toward timeless music; recording in natural acoustic spaces, like stone churches, canyons, or the loft of a barn; and creating music that would embrace vital traditions of music, from Bach to Africa, and cello to wolf.

Artist-in-Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City[edit]

Winter is a member of the Lindisfarne Association, founded by William Irwin Thompson, of scientists, artists, scholars, and contemplatives devoted to the study and realization of a new planetary culture. Through this organization, Winter met the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, Dean of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In 1980, Dean Morton invited him to become artist-in-residence there, to build bridges between spirituality and the environment with his music. St. John the Divine is the largest gothic cathedral in the world and known as “the green cathedral.”[7] In the 1980s and 1990s, it became the center of a vital community of thinkers and seekers working on issues of ecology and environment and world peace. Cosmologist Father Thomas Berry greatly influenced Winter musical-ecological vision, and affirmed his intent to awaken in people, though music, a sense of relatedness with the larger community of life.

Since 1980, Winter and the Paul Winter Consort have presented over 100 special events, at the Cathedral, from the “Tao of Bach” with Al Huang, to Carnival for the Rainforest, and collaborations with high-wire artist Philippe Petit. Each year on the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi a choir of hundreds of voices, gospel singer Theresa Thomason, and the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre join the Consort in a liturgical performance of Winter’s ecological and ecumenical Missa Gaia (Earth Mass). The major movements of the mass are based on the voices of whale, harp seal, and wolf. Winter's annual Winter and Summer Solstice Celebrations celebrating ecumenical celestial milestones have become popular seasonal events in New York, holiday alternatives to Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular and The Nutcracker.

Earth Music[edit]

In 1968, when he attended a lecture on whale songs by Dr. Roger Payne at Rockefeller University in New York City. Payne and Scott McVay had discovered, the year before, that humpbacks produce sounds in intricate patterns that fit the definition of “songs.” These change over time and represent a cultural tradition passed orally from one whale to the next. Winter was thrilled by the soulful beauty of these humpback whale voices in much the same way as when he had first heard jazz saxophonists like Charlie Parker. Listening to the long, complex songs the whales repeat, he was amazed by their musical intelligence, and shocked to learn that these extraordinary creatures were rapidly being hunted to extinction. They opened the door to the whole symphony of nature and changed the direction of Winter’s musical life.

Another milestone was hearing Roger Payne’s 1970 album, Songs of the Humpback Whale, which popularized the whale songs, and was perhaps the greatest single contribution to awakening humanity to whales. The grandfather of all natural sound recordings, and a bestseller, it touched the hearts of millions of people throughout the world. (Winter believed that it contributed more, perhaps, towards saving whales and sea mammals than all other efforts put together, and re-released the album on his Living Music label in 1990.)

During the 1970s, Winter became involved in the movement to bring awareness of whales and their extraordinary music to the world. In the Fall of 1976, Governor Jerry Brown declared “Whale Day” in California. He convened a three day whale conference in Sacramento, bringing together biologists like John Lily; filmmakers; environmentalists; poets, like Gary Snyder; musicians such as Joni Mitchell and the Paul Winter Consort; and fans of the whales. During the early 1970s, as whale consciousness emerged in the culture, Japan began to come under widespread criticism for its continued whaling operations. From the Sacramento whale conference came the idea that, rather than boycott Japan, efforts should be made to communicate with Japanese environmentalists and share with them the growing body of information about whales and why they should be protected. This resulted the next April in a large contingent of biologists and musicians (including the Paul Winter Consort, Mimi Fariña, Jackson Browne, and the fusion band, Stuff, featuring Steve Gadd), along with Governor Brown, traveling to Tokyo for a week of performances. Called “Japan Celebrates the Whale and Dolphin,” it was reportedly the first environmental event ever held in Japan.

Winter traveled to Japan several times with the “Save the Whale” campaign; played benefits for Greenpeace and other organizations; and led music-making and whale-watching workshops on Cape Cod and in Baja California. In 1975, Winter sailed aboard the Greenpeace V anti-whaling expedition for three days of playing saxophone to wild gray whales off the coast of Vancouver Island (Tofino). He was accompanied in this effort by Melville Gregory and Will Jackson, musicians attempting to "communicate" with the whales using various instruments and a Serge synthesizer.[8] Photos of Winter and the whales [by Rex Weyler] appeared on wire services and in media around the world, helping the ultimate success of the mission against Soviet whalers.

In 1978 Winter released "Common Ground" an album that combined his music and animal sounds (Wolves, Eagles, Whales). In 1980, a chance encounter with a wild sea lion pup off Baja California affected Winter deeply, and inspired him to explore the realm of pinnipeds and the role of sound in their lives, in the same way he had immersed himself in learning about whales and wolves. He spent three years observing, listening to, and occasionally playing his saxophone to sea mammals. His research expeditions took him to Newfoundland, British Columbia, Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, the California coastal islands, San Salvador in the Bahamas, and twice again to Magdalena Island in Baja California. The resulting album, Callings, helped initiate a successful campaign to have Congress designate March 1 each year as “The Day of the Seal.”

A further collaboration with Dr. Roger Payne resulted in the album Whales Alive! , with actor Leonard Nimoy, It realized a long-standing dream shared by Payne and Winter to create an entire album of music based on melodies by whales. The album intersperses readings of prose and poetry about whales with music improvised in response to recordings of the whale voices, extending the whale melodies in a way similar to how the whales themselves gradually change and grow their long, complex songs.

In 1990, Paul convinced Roger Payne to come to Japan to various whaling cities, including Shoji and Ogasawara to tour a joint program showing how whale watching could be a viable business alternative to whale-killing.

Winter and Wolves[edit]

In the fall of 1968, Paul saw wolves for the first time in the Redding, CT middle school, at a program given by John Harris. Harris was touring the country to raise awareness about wolves and trying to counter the prejudice that was responsible for the extermination of these creatures from the wild. Looking into the eyes of the wolf as it sat in the back of Harris’ van after the program, Winter was inspired to write his piece “Wolf Eyes.”[9] It presented the lyrical voice of the wolf, and a different, gentle, image of a creature so long misunderstood and vilified by humans.

In 1973, at a wildlife conference in St. Louis, Winter met wolf biologist Fred Harrington, who invited him to Minnesota, where Paul heard wolves in the wild for the first time. In the mid-1970s, at a wolf preserve in the mountains of California, a captive wolf named Ida howled a duet with Winter’s soprano sax, and her voice was featured on the Common Ground album, Winter’s first musical statement about the entire family of life, and the first album to feature voices of endangered species – symbolically representing with whale, wolf, and eagle the realms of sea, land, and air.

After the Redding, CT program, Winter went to visit John Harris many times, and Harris and the wolves sometimes stayed on Winter’s farm. During the 1978 Common Ground tour, Winter invited Harris to introduce his wolf on stage, including on September 8, 1978, at a benefit for the Audubon Society at Carnegie Hall, after which the wolf was featured on the front page of The New York Times.

Adventures in SoundPlay Workshops[edit]

In 1968, Winter began introducing improvisations into the Consort's concerts as a way for the group (cello, alto flute, English horn and sax) to play freely together. The band would perform one “free piece” with all the lights turned out in every concert. This shared adventure into the unknown was often a high point with audiences. After the Consort was asked to do a residency of “master classes” at the Hartt School of Music in 1971, Winter began developing a process for unlocking the unique music inside each person, by creating safe, fun contexts for free interplay. He calls his workshops "Adventures in SoundPlay" No “wrong notes”, no worship of virtuosity, the dissolving of fears – all these things served to open new paths. Winter has conducted about 300 of these sessions at music schools, universities, and at centers such as Esalen, Kripalu, Rowe, and Omega.


Winter has received a Global 500 Award from the United Nations, the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal from the United States Humane Society, the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award, the Spirit of the City Award presented at New York's Cathedral of St John the Divine, and an honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Hartford.



Title Year Label
Jazz Meets the Bossa Nova 1962 Columbia
The Sound of Ipanema 1964 Columbia
Rio 1965 Columbia
Common Ground 1978 A&M
Callings 1980 Living Music
Missa Gaia/Earth Mass 1982 Living Music
Sun Singer 1983 Living Music
Canyon 1985 Living Music
Wintersong 1986 Living Music
Whales Alive 1987 Living Music
Earthbeat 1987 Living Music
Earth: Voices of a Planet 1990 Living Music
Solstice Live! 1993 Living Music
Prayer for the Wild Things 1994 Living Music
Canyon Lullaby 1997 Living Music
Brazilian Days 1998 Living Music
Celtic Solstice 1999 Living Music
Journey with the Sun 2000 Living Music

Paul Winter Consort[edit]

Title Year Label
The Winter Consort 1968 A&M
Something in the Wind 1969 A&M
Road 1970 A&M
Icarus 1972 Epic
Earthdance 1977 A&M
Concert for the Earth 1985 Living Music
Wolf Eyes (compilation) 1989 Living Music
The Man Who Planted Trees 1990 Living Music
Turtle Island 1991 Living Music
Spanish Angel 1993 Living Music
Anthems (compilation) 1998 Living Music
Silver Solstice 2005 Living Music
Crestone 2007 Living Music
Miho: Journey to the Mountain 2010 Living Music
Earth Music 2011 Living Music

Paul Winter Sextet[edit]

Title Year Label
The Paul Winter Sextet 1961 Columbia
Jazz Meets the Bossa Nova 1962 Columbia
Jazz Premiere: Washington 1963 Columbia
New Jazz on Campus 1963 Columbia
Jazz Meets the Folk Song 1963 Columbia


  1. ^ Holmes, Jeffrey (2014). "Paul Winter Consort | Grove Music". doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2267423.
  2. ^ Library, J. F. K. (2018-04-30). "In 1962, the Paul Winter Sextet performed at the White House as part of the First Lady's Musical Program for Youth. The concert was filmed, but unfortunately without sound!". @jfklibrary. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  3. ^ "THE KENNEDY WHITE HOUSE CONCERTS". Museum Music Website. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  4. ^ "How Brazil's bossa nova made it to America". JAZZ.FM91. 2019-02-13. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  5. ^ "MusicHound world: the essential album guide". Choice Reviews Online. 37 (10): 37–5402–37-5402. 2000-06-01. doi:10.5860/choice.37-5402. ISSN 0009-4978.
  6. ^ Joyce, Mike (1988-03-25). "WINTER CONSORT THE 'BEAT' GOES GLOBAL". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  7. ^ Martin, Douglas (1996-02-27). "Ending Lively Era, A Dean Is Leaving St. John the Divine;The Innovator's Work Is Done, Even if the Cathedral Is Not". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  8. ^ "Earth Music". Paul Winter. September 24, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  9. ^ "Jazz Musician Paul Winter Speaks the Language of Wolves on His Sax—and They Reply". Retrieved 2019-10-29.

External links[edit]