by Diego Donamaria
February 2020 at One World Theater in Austin, Texas (Night Two)
by Gina Alligood
I attended Wednesday night’s concert looking forward to hearing live, the sounds of the Winston music I fell in love with in the early 80’s. I’m happy to say I was treated to that and a much broader range of Winston music than I was acquainted.
photo by Todd V Wolfson
Austin’s iconic One World Theater offered just the right intimate, earthy, and elegant atmosphere for a George Winston concert. In his no -frills manner he stepped onto the stage and announced to the audience that he had two setlists- Winter and Summer. Tonight we would be hearing “Summer” and with that out of the way, he sat down on the bench, still and straight-backed, and let his fingers do their magic.
photo by Todd V Wolfson
The first piece, “Dr. Professor Holly,” livened us up on a cold night with a blend of styles, New Orleans jazz and Buddy Holly. True to how the evening would transpire, he took off in a whole new direction with “Rain”, his signature, self-described ‘rural folk’ piano. Like a summer sprinkle, the notes cascaded across the audience , and I could feel the calm settle on the listeners around me.
Anyone familiar with George Winston knows his admiration for the compositions of Vince Guaraldi, so of course we were treated to his medley of Linus and Lucy tunes. Happy music punctuated by the quick, lively and light movement of Winston’s fingers across the keys. “Elephant and Mouse” showed off his love of the Stride piano style made famous by the 1930’s legendary stride pianist Fats Waller.
I was mesmerized by the bold, quick rhythm of his left hand providing the dependable beat while the fingers of his right danced with the definitive rhythm of Stride piano and its hints of ragtime. I enjoyed listening to the music as much as watching the movement of his hands, appearing to have a life of their own.
Throughout the evening it was clear that this is an artist who continues to have more to explore and more ways to push his instrument to its fullest. He reached into the piano with one hand to dampen the strings as he tickled keys with the other, intermittently emphasizing a note with a slide of the finger down off the edge of a key, and finally bowing reverently over the black and white as the sounds of his last note come to absolute quiet.
The evening continued with more Stride piano, New Orleans Jazz, rural piano, the classical sounds of epic Pachelbel’s Canon in “Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel”, and Sam Cook’s civil rights protest song, “A Change is Gonna Come”. We got to hear the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, from his 2002 album “Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors”, and “Kai Forest 2”, a harmonica piece. Turns out he has a set of harmonica recordings you can listen to on his website.
And if that wasn’t enough to give everyone something they could enjoy, he took us in a whole new direction with a guitar piece. Always interesting, Winston plays a Hawaiian finger-style genre of music known as Slack-Key guitar. This reflects Hawaiian and universal themes of the past, feelings of the present, and aloha for loved ones; the ocean, bays, rivers, and waterfalls; the volcanoes, mountains, and valleys; the forests, plants, animals, and birds; the sea, the wind, and the land. What a perfect synergy to Winston’s nature-themed piano pieces. The dexterity and speed of the movement of his fingers was fabulous on the guitar; he added a low 7th string. I hope we hear more guitar from Winston.
The evening came to an end with a piano fan favorite from the early years, Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”. With a formal bow he headed off stage then quickly returned for a wonderful Appalachian guitar piece and then said “goodnight” to a standing ovation. It was a fabulous evening of a diverse sampling of genres and instruments, more than I had hoped for. I’m excited to buy his 2019 CD release, “Restless Wind”, for a lovely evening of music at home in front of the fire.
See the full set list at Georgewinston.com.