George Winston was born on December 26, 1949 and is an American pianist, guitarist, harmonicist, and record producer. He was born in Michigan and raised mainly in Montana, as well as Mississippi and Florida. He is best known for his solo piano recordings. Each of several of his albums from the early 1980s have sold millions of copies. He plays in three styles: the melodic approach he developed 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.
When growing up, Winston's musical interests lay with instrumentals of the R&B, rock, pop, and jazz genres, especially those 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 the stride pianists Thomas "Fats" Waller, Teddy Wilson, and later Earl Hines, Donald Lambert, and Cleo Brown.
After graduating from Coral Gables Senior High School in Coral Gables, Florida in 1967, 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.
Winston was first recorded by John Fahey for Fahey's Takoma Records. His debut album Piano Solos disappeared without much notice, although it was later reissued on Winston's Dancing Cat Records under the title Ballads and Blues 1972. 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. Both Autumn and the following album Winter into Spring went platinum, signifying million-plus shipment in the United States. The Christmas album December became an even greater success, and it was certified triple platinum for shipment of three million. He has recorded twelve more solo piano albums. He is one of the best known performers playing contemporary instrumental music.
Winston released two albums of the music of Vince Guaraldi. He has been interested in Guaraldi's music since he was sixteen 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 Guaraldi. He would also watch 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." Winston recorded a follow-up album, Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2, released in February 2010. A third volume, entitled Count the Ways: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 3, released in 2021.
Winston's 2002 album Night Divides the Day – The Music of the Doors consists of solo piano renditions of music by the rock band The Doors. The title of the album is a lyric from their song "Break on Through (To the Other Side)".
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). Both his harmonica and guitar playing can be heard on his benefit album Remembrance - A Memorial Benefit, which was released shortly after the September 11 attacks. 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 suffered from a number of illnesses, and while recuperating from a bout of cancer, he played the piano in the medical center auditorium, creating 21 pieces, that he says were "kind of circular" and "minimalist." In 2014, he included three of the pieces in a Spring Carousel EP, and a 15-track album, called Spring Carousel - A Cancer Research Benefit released on March 31. Proceeds benefit City of Hope Hospital near Los Angeles, where he was treated and subsequently composed the musical work.
On May 3, 2019, Winston released his 15th solo piano album, Restless Wind. The eleven-song collection includes his interpretations of music by Sam Cooke, The Doors, Stephen Stills, George and Ira Gershwin, Country Joe McDonald, among others. "By virtue of his boundless imagination, Winston’s musical portrayals provide new textures and tones that illuminate the original compositions while discovering fresh insights and common musical themes," wrote Jazziz about Restless Wind. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard New Age Charts, and #2 on the Billboard Jazz Charts.
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 up-tempo 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.
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. According to the Austin American Statesman in 2015: "As for his piano playing, Winston remains a master of both tone and invention.
Winston resides in Santa Cruz, California.
Lullaby (1991) - This beautiful little tune debuted on Winston's 1991 album titled "Summer." It's a great representation of his ability to write appealing melodic lines and are simple, direct, and a joy to listen.
Locating the Music
List of Solo Piano Albums
Piano Solos (later released as Ballads and Blues 1972) - 1972
Autumn - 1980
Winter Into Spring - 1982
December - 1982
Summer - 1991
Forest - 1994
Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi - 1996
Plains - 1999
Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors - 2002
Montana: A Love Story - 2004
Gulf Coast Blues and Impressions - 2006
Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2 - 2010
Guld Coast Blues and Impressions 2 - 2012
Spring Carousel: A Cancer Research Benefit - 2017
Restless Wind - 2019
Night - 2022