Tonawanda News

December 3, 2009

MUSIC: Solo pianist George Winston visits Buffalo


By Phil Dzikiy

At this rate, George Winston reckons he’ll be back in Buffalo, by, oh, 2022. So if you want to see him perform live, Friday night’s your chance.

Winston is a solo instrumentalist, mostly known for his work as a pianist. He’s recorded more than a dozen solo piano albums. All Music Guide describes him as “among the earliest and most successful proponents of the genre of contemporary instrumental music later dubbed new age.” And though he hasn’t been in Buffalo since the late 1990s, he’s joking about the amount of time it might take him to make a return trip after his upcoming show at Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall.

“I’ve been (to Buffalo) eight or nine times over the years,” Winston said. “(It’s) always great to be back.”

But The City of Good Neighbors isn’t the only city on his mind recently. The plight of New Orleans still weighs on his conscience as The Big Easy fights back from some tough times. Winston’s most recent album, 2006’s “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions: A Hurricane Relief Benefit,” offers proceeds to a few of the region’s organizations helping with the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina.

“I just wanted to do something to help the coast of New Orleans, like everybody did,” Winston said. “The news from down there is ‘back in business,’ but there’s a lot of work to still be done. It will come back. It’s just going to take consistent work.”

As expected, the album is done in the jaunty New Orleans R&B; piano style. It features six original Winston compositions and a few covers, including a lengthy reworking of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The first song on the album is titled “New Orleans Shall Rise Again.”

Winston works in three different styles of piano playing — the aforementioned New Orleans style, the jazzy stride piano style and the melodic style he calls “folk piano.”

Winston will touch upon all three of these styles during his performance, as his concerts show “just where I’m coming from musically right now.”

So though audiences can expect a mix of piano styles and songs, no one should expect anyone else to be on stage with Winston.

“Never,” Winston said of playing with accompaniment. He realized long ago that he was a solo performer. “Once in a great while, I might back up someone on a record. It’s not something I really enjoy.”

Even when performing guitar or harmonica concerts, which happen less frequently than his piano concerts, Winston works alone.

“It seems to fit,” he said. “Whatever I play, I play by myself.”

Winston’s next album should hit stores around Valentine’s Day, he said. In 1996, he tackled the music of one of his favorite composers on the album “Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi.” He’ll revisit Guaraldi’s music on the upcoming “Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi.”

“(It’s the) second and final volume I’m going to do of his pieces,” Winston said. “I love his compositions ... he had a particular language in his compositions.”

For Winston, part of the appeal in playing Guaraldi’s work involves the differences between the playing styles of the two men. Winston gets to bring R&B; flair to Guaraldi’s jazz style.

“I’ve tried to play every one of (Guaraldi’s) pieces over the years,” Winston said. The other composers to attract Winston so thoroughly are the great New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair and the Doors.

Guaraldi is known by many as the “Peanuts” composer, and Winston may play a few of those tunes at Friday’s show. After all, Winston has always placed an emphasis on seasons — his albums include “Autumn,” “December,” “Winter into Spring” and “Summer.”

“This will be the winter show,” Winston said of the upcoming performance.

At each of his concerts, Winston holds a canned food drive. Audience members are urged to bring cans of food to the show. Friday’s performance will benefit the Food Bank of Western New York.



IF YOU GO

WHAT: George Winston solo piano performance

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo

MORE INFORMATION: Tickets start at $27 for non-students. Call 878-3005 or visit www.buffalostate.edu/pac/