George Winston, the quiet giant of solo piano music, has died at 73

American Eagle Awards, Honoring Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, George Clinton and composer Vince Guaraldi - Credit: Jason Davis/Getty Images

American Eagle Awards, Honoring Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, George Clinton and composer Vince Guaraldi – Credit: Jason Davis/Getty Images

George Winston, the the famous solo pianist who sold more than 15 million albums during his career, died on Sunday June 4. He was 73 years old.

Winston’s death was confirmed on his website. He had been battling cancer for 10 years and had undergone a bone marrow transplant in 2013.

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Winston rose to prominence in the early 80s with a trio of records, Autumn, winter to springAnd Decemberall certified platinum in the United States (December even went three times platinum). His music seemed to incorporate elements of classical, jazz, folk, ambient and New Age music, but as Winston said in a Q&A for his website, he always called his “melodic style” of playing “Folk Piano” or “Rural Folk”. Piano.”

“It’s melodic and uncomplicated in its approach, like folk guitar and folk songs, and has a rural sensibility,” he said, adding, “Any other label, including anything to do with anything philosophical, or spiritual, or any beliefs, are also not accurate, because I have no interest in those subjects. I just play the songs as best I can, inspired by the seasons, topographies and regions, and, occasionally, sociological elements, and I try to improve as a player over time.

After those three hit albums, Winston teamed up with actress Meryl Streep for a special LP, The Velvet Rabbit, where her piano was accompanied by the actress’ recitation of the classic children’s story of the same name by Margery Williams. In 1988, Winston provided music for This is America, Charlie Brownan eight-part miniseries on American history starring Charles M. Schulz Peanuts characters. And in 1994, he won the Grammy for Best New Age Album for his LP, Forest.

Throughout his career, Winston has found ways to push the boundaries of his playing. While two albums featuring music from the original Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi may have been a smart and simple choice for a solo piano star, Winston also released a full Doors tribute album, The night divides the dayin 2002. His 2004 album, Montana: a love story, included renditions of songs by Frank Zappa and Sam Cooke; 2019 choppy wind featured covers tunes by George Gershwin and Stephen Stills.

Winston also frequently used his music to promote charitable causes, releasing albums that benefited cancer research, the preservation of Louisiana wetlands, and the victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. In addition to all of his solo piano work, he released solo harmonica and acoustic guitar albums, and ran his own label, Dancing Cat Records, where he released a wealth of albums by Hawaiian guitarists.

Winston continued to write and record even as his health deteriorated, releasing what would be his final album, Night, in May 2022. As always, Winston’s versatility and myriad influences were on display, as he performed songs by Allen Toussaint, Leonard Cohen and Laura Nyro.

Just as his success was singular, Winston’s influence blossomed in a very unique way. As rolling stone reported a few years ago, solo piano music has had a quiet boom in the age of streaming, with people seeking soothing instrumental music for a variety of reasons. As one pianist, Matthew Mayer, said, “I look a little [Winston] as the godfather of it all.

Another pianist, David Nevue, added: “He was the first to be popular enough where his music entered the culture for a 17-year-old kid to hear it and be inspired. It was peaceful, it was meditative, all about melody – it was songs with verses, choruses and bridges; it wasn’t those great epic sonatas. I can’t play Rachmaninoff, no way, that will never happen. But George Winston, I can play like that.

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