George Winston is an acclaimed solo pianist who has sold over 15 million albums in his 40-year career. On September 13, 2012, he was performing in Sand Point, Idaho and barely survived the second half of his show. He made it to the dressing room where he had to lie down and was rushed to the hospital. He was transferred to City of Hope, a leading research and treatment center for cancer, where he received a successful bone marrow transplant to treat his myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). While recovering at City of Hope, he composed 59 new works, 15 of which are showcased on his new release, Spring Carousel. Proceeds from sales of Winston’s Spring Carousel will directly benefit cancer research at City of Hope.
Out of 59 compositions, how did you pick out just 15 of them for Spring Carousel?
I believe in having very specific themes. The record has to tell a story, and the songs have to work with one another. I will put the order together and listen to it all the way through. Then I listen to it again in a week. Then a week after that. And a week after that. There is no time table with this, and rushing it will kill the music. I believe there is one optimum order – it just needs to be found, and I won’t deliver a record until it is completely done.
Tell me more about the song ‘Muted Dream.’ You wrote this while dreaming?
This has happened three or four times before where I would dream a song and then go to the piano to see if it works. This time it did! I don’t dream every single note, just the concept behind it. It is called ‘Muted Dream’ because the music is muted by putting my left hand on the piano and pushing down on the strings. And then I play with my right hand, a bit like finger-style guitar.
Did your relationship with music change through this process?
It did change somewhat, but only in the sense that every experience that I have goes into music. Plus, this record happened. If I were in Antarctica for three months, I am sure those songs would be different and based on that geography.
What one song surprised
you the most?
‘Carousel 1’ is this swirling piece that came to me involuntarily. It took a long time to be able to play it. When I am learning a song, I need to get what is going on in the right hand down, and then I work on the left hand. Then both can play together. My left hand is like the band, and my right hand is like the singer. Getting both of them synched can take a while, depending on the piece.
What is something that is surprising about you?
I am best known for the folk piano, but my main temperament by far is the New Orleans rhythm and blues piano.
What are your musical goals?
I endeavor to play all the songs from the following composers: The Doors, Vince Guaraldi, and Professor Longhair.
Most listened to song in the last week?
I never listen to music unless I am studying a song. I don’t even have music on in my car when I drive. After I started playing music, I didn’t listen to music for pleasure. Now, if I am listening to a song, I am looking to get something out of it, to get an education from it.
What can you tell me about the experience of performing live?
What is hard about performing live is that you can’t do the song over again. What is hard about playing in the studio is that you CAN do the song over again.
Can you give some insight into your personality?
I am good at cleaning up messes after they happen. I am not a preventer or a changer. I’m the batter, and I was just thrown the pitch. For example, when I am driving down the road, I sometimes get honked at for doing something wrong, but I try to learn from my mistakes. I just wish there was a hand sign to tell someone I’m sorry.
What would you say to others going through cancer to help them heal and push forward?
The earth definitely wants you to spring back up.