Written by Ben Allaway
In 1982, I was at a friend’s house in Quincy, Illinois, hanging out. There was some unusually beautiful and ethereal piano music on. “That’s really nice. Who is that?” I asked. “George Winston. It’s his album called DECEMBER.” The music evoked the crisp, open air of winter. Then, I noticed he was playing one of my favorite carols, The Holly and the Ivy. It was such a fresh take on the English carol, it really drew me in.
The repetitive figures in the music became almost hypnotic. On the backdrop of the previous track, it was becoming a deeply reflective, spiritual experience. Winston’s music and that of his friend, guitarist Michael Hedges, became staples in my cassette Walkman. It had an external speaker, so I always played it that way, carrying it on nighttime walks in the historic streets of Hannibal, Missouri. This was my comfort music when I was missing home, missing Minnesota, or just feeling like having company. There seemed to be room for me in the music.
There were no vocals and the titles were usually tied to nature so the music was like a walk in the woods! I have always found George Winston’s music a poignant fit for the roots I have put down in the Midwest, and find that those roots go deeper into spiritual terrain the more I listen. This makes sense given Winston’s coming of age in Montana, and later formative years in Florida and Mississippi.
During this time, his favorite music was instrumental rock and instrumental R&B, including Floyd Cramer, the Ventures, Booker T & The MG’s, Jimmy Smith, and many more. Inspired by R&B, jazz, blues and rock (especially the Doors), George began playing organ in 1967. In 1971 he switched to the acoustic piano after hearing recordings from the 1920s and the 1930s by the legendary stride pianists Thomas “Fats” Waller and the late Teddy Wilson. Also at this time he came up with his own style of melodic instrumental music on solo piano, called folk piano.
Best known for his folk piano music, it is this music that spoke so immediately to me. We hope you will connect with it, too, live and in person on October 9 at 7:30 p.m. here in the Sanctuary! Go to www.MidwesTix.com for tickets, or buy them this Sunday at church. His albums will be for sale, and all of the proceeds will go to TheARTS@First Inclusive Arts Ministries (Our MLK events and some new work with special needs artists), and to our partner in this concert, community radio station KFMG 99.1. If you have any canned food items or pasta, please consider bringing some to the concert for a donation to the DMARC Food Pantry, as requested by Mr. Winston himself.
We’re sure you will be “Blessed by George!”