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story.lead_photo.caption Pianist George Winston will play primarily spring and summer songs for his program Friday at Wildwood Park for the Arts. Speical to the Democrat-Gazette/Todd V Wolfson

Pianist George Winston thinks it has been more than two decades since he last performed in Little Rock.

He's close. His last concert in Fayetteville was in November 2009; he played Fayetteville and Little Rock in February 1994.

‘An Evening with George Winston’

7:30 p.m. Friday, Cabe Festival Theatre, Wildwood Park for the Arts, 20919 Denny Road, Little Rock. A pre-concert reception at 6:30 p.m. in the theater’s south lobby will feature light refreshments and a cash bar, George Winston merchandise and a collection area for canned goods and donations to benefit the Arkansas Foodbank.

Tickets: $30-$40

(501) 821-7275

"I haven't been there in awhile," he admits. "It's been too long. Just one thing or another; I don't know what happened. It's great to get back there. I hope to make it more often than every 20 years."

Tickets for that 1994 concert in Little Rock's Robinson Center cost roughly half as much as they will for his 7:30 p.m. Friday show at Wildwood Park for the Arts.

That performance, too, benefited the Arkansas Foodbank; Winston will be donating 100% of his artist profit from merchandise sales and concertgoers are encouraged to donate nonperishable food items.

"We always invite a local food bank, and ask people to bring cans of food if they can," Winston says. "We always donate the CD proceeds to food banks." That has been going since about 1986, he adds.

Winston said last week he was still working on the program for the Wildwood concert.

"It'll be what I call the 'summer show,' with what I regard as spring and summer-type songs," he explains. "I've got the 'winter show' also, fall and winter stuff, and I try to alternate each time I play someplace.

"I'm not sure what I'm playing yet. But I work best if I prefigure it. I'll see what I played [there] the last time, even though it's been a long time, and vary it. The bottom line is, where am I at musically right now — thinking of different angles and coming to a conclusion."

The set list will likely include "one or two songs, maybe" from Winston's latest album, Restless Wind, released May 3 on his Dancing Cat label. The rest will mostly be material from his "season" albums, "some of the things I did on [my recordings of] Vince Guaraldi's music and some newer things, kind of a mixture of ballads and uptempo."

Those seasonal albums — Autumn, which came out in 1980, was his breakthrough, followed by Summer (1991) and Winter Into Spring and December (1982), all on Dancing Cat, which at the time was being distributed by New Age label Windham Hill — made him more or less a household name.

"I've been at this awhile," says Winston, 70. "I made the first record" — Piano Solos (later re-released as Ballads and Blues) in '72; it wasn't known really at all. The Autumn record did pretty well."

Winston dismissed the "New Age" tag with which the Windham Hill connection adhered to him.

"I don't have anything to do with that mentality," he explains with a sniff. If you have to pigeonhole his output, he says, "I call it melodic-style folk piano because it's simple. I came up with that back in '71; that's what I call it — simple, like folk songs, basically melodic, kind of like folk guitar. I came up with that ballad style, with a balance of uptempo and slower tunes."

Restless Wind is George Winston's latest album.
Restless Wind is George Winston's latest album.

That pretty well describes the 11 cuts on his new album, which features, among other things, stride piano and ragtime. Some of it is original music and interpretations or arrangements of the work of others, including George Gershwin, Sam Cooke, the Doors, New Orleans pianists Professor Longhair and James Booker, Bessie Smith, Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield and Mark Isham's musical soundtrack for the movie The Times of Harvey Milk.

"Over time, these 11 songs as instrumentals sort of coalesced together," he says. "That's the way I work on all records: just over time things kind of coalesce.

"I think these songs work together and then I work on what is the right order. That can take a long time. You can try something one day; next day I want to do it this way. Finally it settles in. That takes longer than recording.

"I basically start with what's a good ending song and what's a good starting song. Back in the LP days, it was, 'OK, what's a good ending song for side one, what's a good beginning for side two?' It gives you a way to start. Things start to fill in after that. Sometimes I just [create] a rough order, and sometimes that'll get things started — something that's halfway decent instead of going for perfection.

"The hardest part of the journey is getting the car started. Once you get the car started, you can get there."

He started touring in 1980, but by the late '80s he had picked up the pace to include nearly 100 concerts each year.

"My main focus is live playing, but I do get in the studio when I'm not touring," he says.

He's working on a third record of Vince Guaraldi's pieces, following 1996's Linus and Lucy — The Music of Vince Guaraldi and 2010's Love Will Come — The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2.

"That'll be out at some point. And I'm working on a folk-piano based record called Night: A Love Story — I think that's going to be next one.

"I have several things going on at the same time. It's kind of like if you're growing a garden: You plant several different things, and let them all kind of slowly grow."

Weekend on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: Winston at Wildwood playing 'summer songs'


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