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Want to hear George Winston? Good luck

The platinum-selling pianist comes to Durango Arts Center Sunday and Monday, but tickets are going, going, (almost) gone

If you love George Winston and have always wanted to see him in concert or see him again, forget about it. He’s appearing at the Durango Arts Center this Sunday the 27th to a sold-out house and in an added show on Monday that at the time of this writing had only a handful tickets left to sell and is sure to sell out (though there is a wait-list for sellout shows). And if you’ve been out of town or out of touch for the past month and didn’t hear about the very special appearance of this doyen of the Steinway, rehearse a desperate look, have a crisp twenty, ten and five in hand, and go hang around the box office a half hour before the 7:30 p.m. shows with the hope of scoring a no-show ticket — it usually works if you look wretched enough.

George Winston is a household name, has been for four decades. His first solo piano album, “Ballads and Blues 1972,” was recorded on the late guitarist John Fahey’s Takoma label in 1972. He began recording for the curiously-famous Wyndham Hill Records in 1980, where he earned his chops as a solo pianist with an ethereal sound adored by listeners seeking suspension of time and place – New Age is what Winston and Wyndham Hill artists were called, and Winston’s “Autumn” became Wyndham’s best-selling record in its catalog. “December” and “Winter into Spring” both went platinum (million-plus sales in the U.S.). Winston’s 15 albums include the titles “Summer,” “Forest,” “Plains,” “Night Divides the Day,” “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions,” as well as playful soundtracks from the animated adaptations of Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strip composed by the enormously talented jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. The premature death of Guaraldi beckoned Winston to record a tribute album in 1996 titled “Linus & Lucy – The Music of Vince Guaraldi” and “Love Will Come – The Music of Vince Guaraldi - Volume 2.”

Before what must be called fame and fortune, Winston quit playing altogether in 1977.

“I couldn’t be Fats Waller,” Winston said in a telephone interview. “I couldn’t play like Fats – I didn’t understand how – and if I couldn’t play Harlem stride piano, I had no business playing piano.”

Winston woke from his stupor after hearing the R&B piano of New Orleans blues pianist Professor Longhair, “which took me 35 years to understand,” he confessed, “and when I heard the great James Booker I found the glove that fit me.”

Winston went on to immerse himself in a variety of musical styles, including those of John Coltrane, Cal Tjader, John Hartford, Randy Newman, Dr. John, Henry Butler, Jon Cleary, and later became enamored with Hawaiian Slack Key guitar and even recorded an album playing the harmonica.

“I’m not a composer; I’m an interpreter,” Winston said without a scintilla of repentance. “Music is something I watch like the weather – I’m a song player and the song will tell me what it wants,” Winston said. “I don’t have natural ability as a player; I have natural ability as a listener – the music tells me what to do and I do it.”

Winston hasn’t any formal music training, but he knows himself and is content with fussing at composers’ tunes like a blind man learning Braille. He calls his music American Folk, and besides the R&B musicians of the 1920s and ’30s, he is keen on The Doors and says that there is no tune that he doesn’t want to play of Frank Zappa’s.

George Winston is probably best described as an iconoclast who listens to music and nature and cherished beliefs, then runs them through his filters into his fingertips and onto the ivories. He’s lucky anyone wants to hear his musings – he knows this – and your lucky if you want to witness his meditations and have a ticket.

You’re asked, by the way, to bring non-perishable food to be donated to the food bank along with profits from the sale of CDs.

jeff@jeffmannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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