George Winston, a solo pianist whose Grammy-winning sound helped define the new age genre, died on June 4. He was 74.
Winston’s soothing instrumentals, released on the Windham Hill label in the ’80s, sold millions, but he never cared much for efforts to pigeonhole his music as new age. A self-described “rural folk” pianist, the alternative superstar put his records of evocative ponderings high on the pop and jazz charts, but he still performed barefoot at his concerts—including a show at Macky Auditorium in Boulder in 1982 in support of a Christmas album, December, his fourth solo piano recording.
“People think I have a classical background, and that’s funny,” Winston allowed. “I consider myself the total antithesis of everything having to do with classical music, from stage manner and dress on down to practice. I do solo concerts where I can play anything I want and not have to watch the time. Maybe I’ll tell a few jokes. It’s better for me to spend my time playing three hours at a concert than to waste my time playing five minutes on The Tonight Show. Once the concert is happening, it doesn’t matter if one person is there or 10,000. A concert isn’t the big sacred act of all time, but it’s an event made for that point in time—that’s what the audience wants.”
December contained original, impressionistic pieces in tribute to the winter season, but it also included arrangements of seven traditional songs. It came to be his highest-selling album, and Winston raked in a lot of revenue. He used it to fund new artists through his own Dancing Cat Productions (to record practitioners of Hawaiian slack-key guitar, a genre he admired) rather than shopping at Famous Footwear.
“The money’s good, but so what?,” he reasoned. “You can have a bunch of money sitting in the bank and you may still be saying, ‘Ouch, I don’t want to wake up this morning.’ Money doesn’t increase happiness, it just lets me make other people happier. If this business didn’t make me more friends, I wouldn’t be in it.”