ENCINITAS – It’s not that it’s a lonely lifestyle; it’s that it’s a solo lifestyle for musician George Winston. And that fits his temperament just right.
Winston doesn’t play with other musicians or even hang around with them much, he said, unless he’s recording them. Instead, he’d rather just listen to them.
“I guess it’s unusual,” Winston said. “But for me it’s totally normal.”
The solo piano player has released more than a dozen albums, including original compositions and interpretations. He’s bringing his tour to Encinitas starting Jan. 21, in support of three of his seasonally-themed reissued albums, “Autumn,” “December” and “Summer.”
Winston sees himself more as an interpreter of music, more so than a composer because of his temperament, he said. “As a soloist instrumental player, I play by myself, and I don’t sing so it’s just kind of my voice.”
As an interpreter, Winston continually looks for songs to turn into solo instrumental pieces. “It doesn’t always work out,” he said. “Very few pieces I play were solo instrumental pieces in the first place, maybe overall only 10.”
He shares the same temperament when it comes to playing the guitar and harmonica.
Winston spent most of his youth growing up in eastern Montana, where there weren’t many TVs, he said. He’d play outdoors as a kid, jumping in a pile of raked leaves or sledding during the winter, baseball in the spring swimming in the summer. “That’s basically all there was,” Winston said. “To this day…that’s been the biggest influence on my life.”
Winston began playing the organ when he was 18, after hearing music from The Doors. When he’d heard the organ, he knew he had to learn to play.
After 4 years of playing the organ, Winston heard Thomas “Fats” Waller’s piano recordings from the 20s and 30s, switching to the piano afterwards.
A lot of what he focuses on now is a style of New Orleans R&B piano music, which he started doing after listening to the music of Professor Longhair in 1979.
The musician of the self-described “folk-piano” style emerged from a love of hearing sustained chords. “It reminded me of folk songs, of folk guitar, you think of a picking guitar in a certain way, it was melodic…and sort of named it that to call it something,” he said.
But Winston said he never intended on setting out to find a style of play.
“I never really thought of that. It was just ‘what’s the best way to play each tune that I’m playing?’ And you do become yourself because it’s kind of a natural thing. But I never set out to do that,” he said.
“It was never a conscious thought; it was something that just happened. I never said, ‘I want to sound like me.’ I just said, ‘I want to play these songs that I like.’”
He advises students to learn to analyze major and minor chords and music theory.
He’s an inveterate student of the masters, too. “Anything I learn from Professor Longhair, ‘Fats’ Waller, The Doors, I would analyze it…I would put it in all the other keys, if there’s a certain technique I’d say, ‘Let’s learn it in all of the keys.’ Certain songs instrumented for the piano might sound better in a different key than what you’ve been learning from. It’s important to learn all the keys, all 12.
“For me the piano is like 12 instruments. Each key is like an instrument,” he said.
He doesn’t write out of necessity, it’s kind of like if you’re thirsty, you get a drink of water, Winston explained. But he said he’s been writing more these days, mostly because he’s exhausted most known tunes over the decades.
“If I want to say something, express something, I do have to make it up,” he said. “If you want to express something, you’ll find a way to do it.”
At each of his concerts, Winston donates 100 percent of the merchandise profits to a food bank in the city he plays.
“I just wanted to give something back to the communities,” he said. The two concerts in Encinitas will donate proceeds to the Community Resource Center.
As for life on the road it fits Winston’s temperament, on stage and all.
“It’s kind of my home. When I’m out, that’s where I live, when I’m home it’s kind of like being in a hotel,” he said. “When I’m home I’m at work in the studio…either recording or working with other artists. But the story really is live performance is my main medium.”
For Winston, it’s a basic way of living, he added.
For tickets and more information visit lapalomatheatre.com.