On Sunday, I went to see George Winston play at the high school auditorium in Estes Park, Colorado. I enjoy some of his music and since many pianists on rrmp seem to think he’s not so good, I was really curious. (One of the quotes I remember from rrmp was “I used to play in the George Winston style, then I got better”).
He was playing on a Yamaha that looked like about a six-footer. It may have been 7 foot however as I couldn’t get up to it to check. There were about 300 to 400 people in attendance, and the auditorium was quite nice. When George came out, he was in blue jeans, with a long sleeve T-shirt, and no shoes, just gray socks. Over the course of the evening, he played several tunes by Vince Guaraldi including Linus & Lucy, the Skating song, and one from “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”. He also played Colors, Moon, Carol of the Bells, Tamarack Pines, Angel, a tune from Philip Aaberg, one from Sarah McLachlan, and a few others I’ve forgotten. In addition, he played three or four slack guitar tunes, and two harmonica pieces. His talking with the audience was casual and relaxed, but not very personable. Basically, except for right at the end, all his comments were limited to saying “thank you” and telling us what he was going to play next. He played for a bit over 2 ½ hours.
After seeing a few other concert pianists, I expected George’s piano playing to seem effortless, as that is the impression I’ve gotten from the other concerts I’ve attended. However, it wasn’t effortless. There were several places where it seemed he was trying to decide what to do with his hands (or at least one of them). Some of the songs had some “repeats” that I don’t think are in the originals. He never actually stalled out in the middle of a tune, but he did keep me very interested several times because I thought he was about to do so. He also used some “contemporary piano” techniques where he reached into the piano and damped the strings with his hands to achieve different tones. And, there were several songs where he would depress the sustain pedal at the beginning and play virtually the whole song without changing the pedal. I’ve never noticed this in his recordings, but perhaps it’s because I haven’t paid close enough attention. The only strange mannerism I noticed (other than a lack of shoes) was his technique in playing single emphasized notes. He basically would tommy-hawk the key with the side his pinky. A piano teacher sitting behind me whispered to her student “Don’t even **think** of doing that!” Now don’t get me wrong, he played all of the songs quite well. The Vince Guaraldi tunes he had down cold, and he did very well with the Aahberg and McLachlan. It was his own compositions that seemed to cause him the most problems. The slack key guitar and harmonica tunes were interesting, but they really didn’t do much for me.
All in all, I enjoyed myself and would recommend going to see George to anyone who enjoys new-age style music.