Acclaimed pianist in the Kent Spotlight

Pianist George Winston plays at 7:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Kentwood High Performing Arts Center in Covington.

Pianist George Winston plays at 7:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Kentwood High Performing Arts Center in Covington.

Just as many kids did, George Winston took a few piano lessons and quit.

“I was about 6 and not interested,” Winston, now 60, said in a phone interview April 6 on the road to his concert in Des Moines, Iowa. “I found middle C and that was about it.”

Not until Winston was 18 and listened to The Doors, an American rock band popular in the 1960s, did he return to playing the piano, or in his case, the organ.

“That inspired me to play organ in a band,” Winston said.

Winston, who has recorded 11 solo piano albums since 1980 that have gone gold, platinum or multi-platinum, plays 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Kentwood High School Performing Arts Center, 25800 164th Ave. S.E., in Covington. The concert is part of the annual Kent Spotlight Series.

The artist now lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and performs anywhere from 110 to 120 concerts per year.

After taking up the organ, Winston switched five years later to solo piano. He then became inspired by New Orleans piano players such as Dr. John, Henry Butler, James Booker, Professor Longhair and others.

“That was just how I wanted to play the piano,” said Winston, who grew up in Montana and Mississippi. “I love their playing.”

Winston’s compositions are inspired by North American folk traditions, rhythm and blues and nature. His concerts feature a variety of styles, including melodic folk piano, stride piano and Vince Guaraldi’s pieces written for the Peanuts television shows.

“People watching Peanuts do not know who wrote the music,” Winston said. “But I look at the music.”

In 1996, Winston released the album “Linus and Lucy, the Music of Vince Guaraldi.” Most of the songs on the album are from the theme music Guaraldi wrote for the Peanuts television specials.

“I love his songs,” said Winston. “I play them differently. He was a jazz player and I’m rhythm and blues. But I’ve always loved his Peanuts and non-Peanuts songs. He was a great composer and pianist.”

In September, Winston plans to release “Love Will Come, the Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2.”

“I always thought there would be a volume 2,” Winston said.

Fans of Winston can expect to hear at least a couple of Guaraldi’s songs at the concert.

“I always do something of Vince’s at every show,” said Winston. “I don’t know what I would do without him. He’s part of the culture. And his music is better known than his name.”

Winston also plays the guitar and harmonica. He said his concert might include a couple of guitar pieces and maybe one song with the harmonica.

Even though Winston turned 60 this year, he has no plans to cut back on his tour dates. He will play for three weeks this summer in Korea and later this year plays all over the United States from Texas to Minnesota to New York.

“I play better than I used to,” Winston said. “When I was in my 30s, I always wanted to be in my 60s and to play better than I used to. I still can’t play everything I want, but I knew it would take at least that long.”

Winston quit playing the piano as a kid. But there hasn’t been any quit in him since he returned to the keyboards at age 18 and he strives to continue improving.

“It’s a hard climb,” he said. “It’s like climbing Mount Everest. I’m halfway up. All deep endeavors, whether you’re a scientist or a piano player or whatever, takes a lot of hard work.”

If you go

• What: George Winston concert

• When: 7:30 p.m. April 22

• Where: Kentwood Performing Arts Center, 25800 164th Ave. S.E., Covington

• Cost: $26 for adults, $24 for senior citizens, $20 for students

• Tickets: www.kentarts.com or 253-856-5051

• Note: Concertgoers are asked to bring a donation of non-perishable canned food to the show, part of a food drive Winston organizes at all of his concerts. Donations will be given to Seattle-based Food Lifeline for distribution in Western Washington.


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