‘Tis the season, literally, at the Music Center at Strathmore where George Winston played his “Winter Concert” in a masterful performance of beautiful songs dedicated to fall, winter, snow, and Thanksgiving. It was refreshing in this season of repetitive Christmas songs. His only nod to that holiday was a unique rendition of “Carol of the Bells” that he meshed with his own composition.
He seemed to do a lot of that in an evening rich in piano history and original songs. Winston is best known for his renditions of Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to Peanuts – the jazzy, addictive, fun songs that were way too good for cartoon TV – but he has also released 13 solo albums. He played homage to Guaraldi as he opened the concert with “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and a medley of other songs including “Linus & Lucy” and “The Great Pumpkin Waltz.”
He couldn’t resist putting his own spin on each, improvising across the octaves. As dynamic as the music was, Winston was almost reserved onstage. He sat in jeans, socks, and a button down shirt alone with a full Steinway grand piano and a guitar he broke out for two songs. He also played a traditional tune on a harmonic at one point, all from memory.
He seems to name most of his original compositions after the natural world, starting with “Autumn” and moving on to “Moon,” a haunting, quite piece that is very well named. He seemed equally happy exploring other people’s work too – especially iconic moments in piano history, including “Dog and Cat” – a stride piano piece inspired by the old time jazz musicians of the 20’s and 30’s. It involves playing a bass line and chords with his left and just going crazy with the right. It really did sound like he had three hands. He also played a piece inspired by James Booker called “Pixie #13.” Winston closed the evening with an intriguing rendition of “Love Hides” by the Doors.
My favorite moment of the night was another mash-up between his own composition and a classical-style piece called “Colors/Tamarac Pines”and it was addictively repetitive as it built into a blur of notes. At one point he was leaning over to dampen the strings of the piano to create an unearthly sound.
Winston is almost constantly on the road. He seems at home onstage and spends little time chatting up the audience – preferring just to play. It made for a delightful afternoon, learning a little more about this instrument, which he has clearly mastered, and just enjoying some wonderful music.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minutes intermission.
George Winston’s website.