For the record, albums are only a part of George Winston's music

March 18, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Most pop musicians these days tour in order to sell albums. It hardly matters what style their music is; almost everyone in the business sooner or later introduces a tune with the words, "This is from our new album."

Everyone except George Winston, that is.

"I've never done that, actually," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Richmond, Va. "I just have the two different shows: the 'Summer' show, and the 'Winter' show."

As a matter of fact, it's been three years since the pianist's last album, "Summer," was released, and he seems in no hurry to deliver the next one. "Records are something that happen every so often," he says. "I see that these particular songs go together, and they might work together on a recording.

"But that's not really something I think about that much," he adds. "It's just another musical medium, like playing live is. But it's kind of a side thing for me. It's really not primarily how I think musically."

Consequently, if all you know about George Winston is what has been included on his albums, you really don't know that much about his music. Take Winston's fondness for blues and R&B. When he wants to get down, he's more than capable of drawing from the music of such New Orleans piano stylists as James Booker, whose playing Winston has spent years studying.

"I've got my own style for the melodic pieces, the folk pieces, but that's just a part of my music," Winston says. "That's what I'm known for in the recordings, and that's fine. It's legit and it's how I feel.

"But one of these days, I'll do an R&B or stride solo piano [album]. It's just not there -- I don't see it in front of me yet. When I see it in front of me, I'll do it."

Another area of interest for Winston is Hawaiian slack key guitar. (Yes, he plays guitar in addition to piano, though you wouldn't know it from his albums).

"It's Hawaii's name for traditional solo guitar, like 'flamenco' is Spain's name for it," he says. "It's not the steel guitar -- slack key guitar is like finger-style guitar, or finger-picking. Actually, it started half a century before the steel guitar started, but it's lesser-known."

In fact, even though recordings of Hawaiian music date back as far as the turn of the century, Winston says that "until the '50s, there were only about 20 slack key recordings. Period. I'm talking about tracks, not even whole records.

"It's something, in the older days, that was just kind of there. There wasn't much thought of recording -- people just did it. So it's been very much a kind of backwoods style."

So how did Winston end up wanting to learn the slack key style? "I first heard slack key recordings about 20 years ago, and it was like an instant 'This is it,' " he says.

"But I hungered for the slack key tradition for years, not knowing what it was. It's like missing matter, the theory that 90 percent of the universe is missing matter. Well, musically, I had missing matter. So by the time I discovered the slack key tradition, I was more than ready. It wasn't just, 'Oh, that's nice. What's that?'

"I wouldn't even say I have a desire to play slack key -- I just do it. It's like walking or something."

Winston adds that he doesn't play slack key guitar quite the same way Hawaiian natives do.

"Because I come from Montana, the approach I have is different," he says. "I use the Hawaiian language on guitar, but it will always come out differently, because not only am I a different person, but I come from far, far away."

But he is making an effort to bridge that distance for others, by producing a series of slack key guitar albums for his own Dancing Cat records. "Right now, we're recording 10 people for Dancing Cat, so I have had the good fortune to have spent hundreds of hours in the studio with them," he says.

Winston expects the first couple albums to be available this spring.

Winston watch

To hear excerpts from George Winston's recorded work, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6167 after you hear the greeting.

George Winston

When: Tonight at 8 p.m.

Where: Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts

Tickets: Sold out

Call: (410) 263-5019 for information

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