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George Winston
Categories: Music, Utrinque Paratus

Is that an extra hand in your pocket?

By Leigh E. Rich

Is that an extra hand in your pocket or are you just George Winston?

The man who makes an empty stage, save for one grand piano, sound like a fine-tuned thunderstorm or a resurrected Jim Morrison dividing night from day tickled and taunted the ivories Friday night to a half-filled Boettcher Concert Hall.

Winston’s eclectic and energetic music—and his audience’s enthusiasm—expanded into those empty seats like a fragrance that must fill the volume of its space ere it mock Nature herself. And while Winston’s “Rain” drenched those of us fortunate to bathe in his divine mixture of musical mastery, the rest of Denver plodded about a rain-soaked downtown unconsciously envious.

It would be redundant to call Winston a virtuoso. And offensive to corner him as New Age. He’s more like the musical version of an afternoon reminiscing famous words with Bartlett. A history lesson into the forays of classical, jazz, rag, stride and rock as much as a decadent stop to smell the roses, Winston’s Summer concert was above all a delight of the senses.

Opening with his plucky take on fiddle tunes and moving into his “folk piano” pieces “Rain” and “Woods,” Winston also intermixed compositions by Fats Waller, Vince Guaraldi, Randy Newman and even Frank Zappa. And his “Variations on Canon” fleshed out a classic classical tune long loved (or despised) by piano students the world over.

His easy blue-jeans style and casual humor (telling Boettcher-goers how he plays two concerts a year—this, the Summer concert and, “You guessed it,” he says, his Winter concert) don’t distract from Winston’s essence: Sound trapped in human form. It is the only explanation for the coexistence of the seeming disparateness of his stride piano-inspired “The Elephant and the Mouse,” his Montana version of Leonard Kwan’s Hawaiian slack key guitar piece “Sleepy Shellfish,” and his “harmonica-bility” that had the Irish dancing in Denver.

With layers of sound not thought possible from a piece of metal mixed with breath, Winston’s interpretation of an Irish folksong (with, one could swear, Scottish bagpipes in accompaniment) halted even the uncontrollable coughs and noiseless chair shifting that invariably punctuate the background of collected bodies.

He then unceremoniously put his harmonica in his pocket and turned back to the piano.

Triumphantly exiting his two-hour performance with a resuscitated rendition of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” Winston dissipated from the Denver stage with the same humility as a piano string ceases to vibrate. 

Rich, L. E. (2003, July 18). George Winston: Is that an extra hand in your pocket? Leigh Rich Freelance: five2seven.

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