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Jazz pianist’s Montana memories to be heard in local shows

George Winston will perform Tuesday at the Bing Crosby Theater and Sept. 13 in Sandpoint.
George Winston will perform Tuesday at the Bing Crosby Theater and Sept. 13 in Sandpoint.

George Winston spent his first 12 years in Eastern Montana. There was no TV, one radio station.

“The seasons were the entertainment,” he said. “In fall, the color of the leaves, jumping in the leaves, sledding in the winter, baseball in the spring, swimming in the summer and that was the entertainment.”

Audience members should expect to hear pieces of Winston’s childhood when he plays two concerts in the area next week. Tuesday he’ll be at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane; Thursday he’ll play the Panida Theatre in Sandpoint. Both shows are rescheduled after Winston canceled shows in 2011.

“Those 12 years of just the seasons, that’s the basis of every song I play, because it reminds me of a season or a topography.”

Winston came to the piano as a young adult, and only started listening to music at about age 12.

“As a kid, I played the record player,” he said.

After watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965, “I got the Vince Guaraldi album the next day and wore it out,” he said.

In 1967, he heard the Doors and decided he needed to play the organ in a band. At age 18 he learned to play the organ.

Four years later, he heard recordings of jazz pianist Fats Waller and knew he needed to switch instruments.

His early influences are evident in his recordings: Albums cover the seasons, Dixieland jazz, and the music of the Doors and Guaraldi.

His concert will draw heavily from the piano recordings. And he’ll probably throw in a piece or two on guitar, and maybe one on harmonica, to “break up the piano sound,” he said.

Winston said he tries to tailor his shows to his audience.

“The audience thinks they’re there for me, but actually I’m there because of them,” he said.

His advice for beginning pianists: Learn the major and minor chords.

“It’s kind of like knowing what 1 through 9 and what A through Z is,” he said. “If you know what 1 through 9 is you can map out the universe, but you got to know what 1 through 9 is. If you know what A through Z is, you can write novels, but you got to know what A through Z is.”

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