Solo pianist George Winston playing a benefit concert to support food banks | VailDaily.com

Solo pianist George Winston playing a benefit concert to support food banks

BEAVER CREEK — Solo pianist George Winston plays exceptionally and entertainingly well, lives pretty simply and gives stuff away.

Take his newest release, for example. It's a knockout version of the Christmas classic, "Silent Night." It went up on iTunes to raise money for the Feeding America food bank.

It went up on iTunes and every dime goes to the Feeding America food bank.

"With all these food stamp cuts, I don't know what some of these people are going to do by the end of the month," Winston said.

Also, feel free to bring some canned food to Thursday's concert and it'll find its way into the hands of the local Salvation Army food bank. They'll also be happy to accept any cash you want to donate, and since the concert is Dec. 26 you can still get a tax deduction.

CD and merchandise sales also go to charities, and it's been that way since he started doing it in 1986.

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"If you're down on your luck you can get water from a fountain and sleep in your car, but where are you going to get food without stealing it?" he said. "I've had to eat in soup kitchens a couple times, and I was glad they were there."

Governments can't do it, he said, and so we have to help each other at a grassroots level. Feeding America is a nationwide network of food banks that feeds 37 million people, including 14 million children.

"It's not an easy world for anyone. We're all fighting death and gravity. We're trying not to fall over and trying not to die," Winston said.

Not-so-silent nights

All creativity begins with inspiration, and if you're going to be inspired by something, pick something good. Winston did.

His "Silent Night: A Benefit Single for Feeding America" rolls in the New Orleans R&B solo piano style, and was inspired by Joseph Byrd's arrangement on his 1976 album, "A Christmas Yet to Come." You'll recognize a little of the New Orleans pianist, Professor Longhair added to the mix.

You can buy it – and you should – on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and everywhere digital music is sold.

Winston played nothing but the record player until he was 18, and laughs and says he didn't play that until he was 12.

"It was like hockey. It was there and I'm here, but we didn't intersect," he said.

Then he heard the Doors and started playing the organ.

"That was it. I thought, 'I've got to get an organ and play in a band,'" he said.

He noticed that 30 of the Top 40 hits in 1961 were instrumentals, many featuring organs.

"I would get anything that had an organ and learn to play along," he said.

Music changed directions in 1971, and Winston didn't want to, so he went back to the 1920s and listened to Fats Waller and other piano legends. That inspired him to play the piano and started playing Vince Guaraldi tunes.

"To this day I'm still playing Vince Guaraldi tunes. He plays other tunes inside those tunes and that's how I do it, too," he said.

He started releasing solo piano albums in 1972, and is up to 13, including two tribute albums to Guaraldi, "Linus and Lucy," and "The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Love Will Come – The Music of Vince Guaraldi Vol 2," and a Doors tribute album, "Night Divides the Day: The Music of The Doors."

He doesn't have many spots that make him want to do something over. If something needed changing, he probably already changed it.

"I take a lot of time and listen. Then if something needs to be changed I can change it," he said. "Sometimes it works out of a long time period. There are things in our lives that are better if we let them sit a while.

"Sometimes it's overnight. Sometimes it's for a decade."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

If You Go …

What: Solo pianist George Winston

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek

When: Thursday, Dec. 26. Doors: 6:30 p.m., show: 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $38

Information: Winston’s new single is available on iTunes and all the money goes to the Feeding America food bank. The event is also a canned food drive for the Vail Valley Salvation Army. For tickets, go to vilarpac.org to order online, call 970-845-TIXS (8497), or 888-920-ARTS (2787), or go by the Vilar Center box office.