Behind the keys

Published 10:52 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Concert: Legendary pianist George Winston will perform a solo concert at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Tuesday. Audience members are asked to bring nonperishable food items for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.

Legendary soloist to tickle the ivories at SCCA

The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts will be filled with the sounds of a legendary pianist next week.

George Winston, best known for his seasonally-themed recordings and his tributes to “Peanuts” composer Vince Guaraldi, will perform at the center Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Like all of his shows on this tour, audience members are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to benefit the local food bank.

“It’s great to get to a new town,” Winston said about coming to Suffolk. “I’m looking forward to experiencing it and seeing what it does to the music. I want every place to affect how I play the music. Every different place adds its little strand of genetics.”

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Winston grew up in Montana and also spent his later formative years in Mississippi and Florida. His favorite music as a young man was instrumental rock and instrumental rhythm and blues, including artists like Floyd Cramer, the Ventures, Booker T & The MG’s, Jimmy Smith and more.

He began playing the organ in 1967, then switched to acoustic piano after hearing recordings from the 1920s and ‘30s by legendary pianists Thomas “Fats” Waller and Teddy Wilson. In 1972, he recorded his first solo piano album.

Later releases included tributes to Vince Guaraldi — who composed pieces for the “Peanuts” comic television specials — and The Doors, as well as seasonal specials such as “Autumn” (1980), “Winter into Spring” (1982), “December” (1982) and “Summer” (1991).

Winston said he will play some seasonal songs as well as other favorites at next week’s concert.

There won’t be a lot of dialogue between songs, he said, but he does do some explanation of each song.

“I try to explain some, unless I just don’t feel like it,” he said. “I just listen to what the song wants, what does this song need, how can I serve the song and the event?”

Besides just serving his songs and audience, Winston is serving the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia with this show. Each audience member is asked to bring a non-perishable food item to be donated to the food bank.

This is hardly the first time Winston has done charity work. Two of his albums have benefited Hurricane Katrina relief and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Most of my inspiration on the piano comes from New Orleans pianists,” he said. “That [Katrina] was such an unprecedented tragedy. When there’s a disaster, everybody wants to do something, and it’s most efficient when you do what you do.”

His shows on this tour are benefiting food banks in the areas where the show is played.

“The main area I work in, really, is food,” he said. “If you’re down on your luck, you could sleep in your car, and you could go into a public place and drink from a fountain, but where do you legally get food?”

Tickets for the concert are $35 and $45. To purchase tickets, call 923-2900 or visit