In music, life, piano man Winston cares

Renowned pianist George Winston is as passionate about causes as he is his music. Proceeds from his latest CD “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2 – A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit” will go toward efforts to preserve the Gulf Coast region, and his Monday night concert at the Durango Arts Center is a benefit for the Durango Food Bank. Attendees are asked to bring a nonperishable food item for donation to the concert. Enlarge photo

ANDY ARGYRAKIS/Dancing Cat Productions

Renowned pianist George Winston is as passionate about causes as he is his music. Proceeds from his latest CD “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2 – A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit” will go toward efforts to preserve the Gulf Coast region, and his Monday night concert at the Durango Arts Center is a benefit for the Durango Food Bank. Attendees are asked to bring a nonperishable food item for donation to the concert.

For a man who plays songs without lyrics, George Winston’s music carries quite a message.

“I try to play as many benefits as possible – it’s a balance,” Winston said by phone somewhere in Utah on his drive to Durango for Monday night’s concert at the Durango Arts Center.

Winston is one of the top solo pianists touring, gaining international fame for his renditions of Vince Guaraldi’s “Peanuts” music as well popular arrangements of The Doors’ music and other familiar works in addition to his own compositions.

“The music I play is about 99.9 percent North American,” Winston said. “I never looked at things like Bach and a lot of the classical Europeans. People play Bach, great, so I look at other things, like I’m still working on getting Professor Longhair right. Certain things that work, they work great and some things don’t.”

In the solo show, Winston also plays several pieces on guitar, to which he adds a seventh string.

“I like the addition of a low C string,” Winston said.

Winston’s latest CD release is a second volume of “Gulf Coast Blues and Impressions,” which benefits one of his most impassioned causes. Proceeds from both volumes will go toward restoration of coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico region.

“They really got hit hard – first Katrina and then the oil spill – and there’s a lot of work to be done to get it right again,” he said.

The region has special meaning to Winston, who cites many New Orleans pianists such as James Booker, Henry Butler and Professor Longhair, among others, as his personal inspirations.

The Durango show will also include new samples from his upcoming albums; he’ll release a second volume of Doors music and a third volume of Guaraldi in the near future.

It’s also an opportunity for Winston to support two of his other favorite causes, arts councils and food banks.

In particular, he’s working to raise awareness for the Second Harvest program, which collects food from stores on the days that food would normally be discarded and instead freezes the food immediately for distribution to those in need.

He’ll donate some proceeds from the show to the Durango Arts Center and the Durango Food Bank, and all in attendance are asked to bring an item for donation to the food bank.

“The reason I work with food is that in about 1986, I realized that of the basic needs, food’s the one you can’t do alone,” Winston said. You can sleep in your car or an abandoned building, and you can get water for free from a fountain, but to get food, it’s almost always illegal. Food banks do incredible work.”

Expect Winston to play two sets of about 50 minutes each at Monday’s concert.

ted@durangoherald.com