Mike Ragogna: What advice do you have for new artists?
George Winston: I lucked into that. I have no concept of what the business is because I was just approaching the Windham Hill people as somebody that wanted to get guitarists recorded. I would say see what the music wants, listen to your teachers and influences but listen to yourself too. Water seeks the lowest level, there’s always some place to play. If I didn’t have a chance to play concerts then I’d play at senior centers, I’d play on a park bench. There’s always some place you can find to play and have the appropriate songs for. Maybe playing at a restaurant. Maybe you’d rather not play while people are eating, but then you could develop songs that are perfect for people eating. Maybe you wouldn’t play a concert where everybody was staring at you. One of my biggest influences was Ted Greene, the guitarist. He didn’t want to play with people staring at him, he only wanted to play while people were eating. He wanted to be the background. I went to play one time at somebody’s wedding and I expected people to be dancing, but it was a whole room of people eating. So I’m sitting down and I think, “Okay, let’s see… Oh! Vince Guaraldi! Okay!” Luckily I was ready and I was able to say, “What’s happening here? What music fits with this?”
Life itself is a film maybe, kind of. “Here I am playing, what fits me as a person? What fits the listener?” It’s two sides of the same coin, like seasons and topographies. A player and a listener is two sides of the same coin. I would not play if there wasn’t a listener. I don’t play for my own enjoyment. It’s not physically pleasurable to play. It’s not fun. It’s not not fun, either, it’s more like, “This is what I gotta go to practice and get these songs together so when I’m playing for a person or people I can say musically what I want to say. As long as I really want to play the song I’m very happy to accomodate myself to whatever situation I’m in, but my deal with the music is that I will only play what songs I want to play. I’m not even capable of playing songs I don’t want to play. I almost get mentally nauseous. Some people play six nights a week at a club. I admire that. I couldn’t do it. Then I talk to somebody who says, “Yeah, you tour for one month, two months, four months, I couldn’t do that,” and I go, “Well for me that’s home. I can’t do what you do.” I’m very happy to accommodate every situation that I’m in as long as the music fits the situation I’m in.
Ninety-nine percent of the people at my concerts are there because of records. They’re not there because, “Oh, there’s a piano player in town and nothing else to do.” There’s a hundred other things to do. So I play things that I still play from the records and new things. I have two shows, the wummer show and the winter show and I alternate all the time. If I play the summer show and the winter show in a town, by the time I get back to the summer show things have changed. I try to pay attention to who I’m playing for as well as paying attention to myself. If somebody wants me to play a song that I don’t play, I’m not going to play it. I can’t or won’t or whatever. It’s like, “Where can we come to a happy meeting?” Maybe I want to play “Saints Go Marching In” for fifty minutes, maybe they want to hear the whole December record. Okay, we can reach a happy medium here.