Artists may paint the landscape but pianist George Winston plays it.
Exposed to the beauty of Montana as a child, Winston’s roots have inspired him to create his latest recording “Plains.” It focuses on the beauty of eastern Montana’s Great Plains, where Winston grew up (first in Miles City, then in Billings). The album stems from his 1994 solo work “Forest,” which captured the beauty of western Montana in the pines of the Rocky Mountains.
Winston brings the musical commemorative beauty of these areas to Pepperdine March 2, in a concert co-sponsored by KLON-FM. In his first performance at the university, Winston will open with acoustic piano and then mix in some Hawaiian slack key guitar.
“He is interested in playing smaller size venues,” said Marnie Mitze, coordinator for the Pepperdine’s Center for the Arts. “UCLA presented him every year for several years, but he hasn’t performed on the West side of L.A. in awhile. We thought it would be a successful booking for Pepperdine, and it has been!”
For every concert Winston performs, he picks a local charity to sponsor for a food drive. At Pepperdine he has chosen the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, and audience members are asked to bring canned food for the cause.
“He is a gracious person,” Mitze said.
More of an interpreter than a composer, Winston complements his own work in his latest solo piano recording with tunes arranged from Hawaiian pieces like “No Ke Ano Ahi Ahi,” and “Ike la Ladana.” He also rearranged Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and “The Dance” by Garth Brooks into his own contemporary piano pieces.
Winston’s passion for piano began while listening to the radio in the late 1950s as a child. Winston began playing the organ and electric piano soon after high school in 1967, his influences being R&B, jazz, blues and especially The Doors. He then switched to acoustic piano in 1971 after hearing swing pianists Thomas “Fats” Wallar and the late Teddy Wilson, famous for the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet.
Winston calls his style “rural folk piano” after his pop instrumental influences and folk music preferences. While this is his favorite mode, Winston also plays in swing and “rhythm and blues” piano.
Winston got much of his folk influence in 1985 when he recorded with the Hawaiian slack-key guitar masters.
“Even though this music comes from Hawaii it brings me feelings of Montana, since that’s my roots,” Winston said in a press release. “I’ve adapted the Hawaiian musical language to express my feelings about Montana on guitar.”
Winston brings those roots to life in his sold out Smothers performance March 2. Dedicated to each show, Winston is up rehearsing the night before his performance from midnight to 4 a.m.
“I love touring, getting inspired by many places and playing live — that’s the real thing,” he said in the release.
Pepperdine is only one stop on this pianist’s nearly non-stop touring schedule. He books around 110 concert dates a year in the U.S., Asia and Europe. For those who missed getting tickets to the Smothers venue, Winston also plays at El Camino College March 1. For more information on this concert call 1-800-832-2787.
February 21, 2002