Read Paul Winter's biography
Paul Winter's BiographyPaul Winter (born August 31, 1939) is an American saxophonist (alto and soprano saxophone), and is a seven-time Grammy Award winner.
Paul Winter’s musical realm has long embraced the traditions of the world’s cultures, as well as the extraordinary voices of what he refers to as “the greater symphony of the Earth.” The saxophonist, bandleader and composer has recorded more than 40 albums, and won 7 Grammy Awards. His concert tours and recording expeditions have taken him to 52 countries and to wilderness areas on six continents, into which he has traveled on rafts, mules, dog sleds, horses, kayaks, sailboats, steamers, tug-boats and Land Rovers. With his music, he has found a means to connect people to a sense of place and promote relatedness to the larger community of life. His benefit concerts and various compositions have served the causes of environment and peace in a range of countries, including Russia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, and Spain.
Paul’s journey started in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where he began playing drums, piano and clarinet after the age of five, and then fell in love with saxophone in the fourth grade. Playing in small bands with his schoolmates, first in ‘The Little German Band’, then a Dixieland band, and finally a nine-piece dance band known as ‘The Silver Liners’, he became enthralled first with big band music, and by the small be-bop groups of the 1950s, and embarked on his first professional tour at the age of seventeen.
At Northwestern University in Chicago, Winter formed a jazz sextet, which won the 1961 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival and was signed to Columbia Records by the legendary John Hammond, who produced seven albums for the group on that label. In 1962 the Paul Winter Sextet was sent by the U.S. State Department on a six-month goodwill tour of twenty-three countries of Latin America.
The success of this tour led to an invitation by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to play at the White House. The Sextet’s performance in the East Room on November 19, 1962, happened to be the first ever jazz concert in the White House.
The Sextet had spent a month in Brazil during the tour, at the time that a new genre, bossa nova, was blossoming there. Winter was so captivated by Brazilian music that he returned to Rio to live for nearly a year in 1964 and 1965, during which time he recorded albums with Carlos Lyra, Luiz Bonfa, The Tamba Trio, Roberto Menescal and Oscar-Castro-Neves, including the 1965 release of the album Rio, with liner notes by Vinicius de Moraes.. Brazilian guitar, Afro-Brazilian percussion, and the symphonic music of Villa-Lobos inspired the aural-vision of the new ensemble he would call the Paul Winter Consort.
Winter invited Brazilian musician Dori Caymmi, then 22, to come to the States for the first time. They toured for several months as the Paul Winter Brazilian Consort, with alto sax, alto flute, guitar, bass, and an Argentinian drummer playing a unique percussion set-up that included seven surdos. In the late 1960s, Winter’s friend, and one of the seminal figures in the bossa nova movement, composer and guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, moved from Brazil to settle in California. Castro-Neves began touring as the new guitarist in the Consort, as well as working with Winter in the production of his albums. Another influence on Winter’s music was folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, whom Winter met in 1966 at the Newport Folk Festival, drawn together by their mutual interest in ethnic instruments. The folk singer became a friend and mentor who encouraged Winter towards a more participatory kind of music.
Launched in 1967, the Paul Winter Consort became a forum for the whole range of musical genres Winter had come to love – from Bach to African music –including as well notable voices from the symphony of nature (as the whale, wolf, and eagle). Winter took the name from Elizabethan times and the house bands of Shakespearean Theatre, which adventurously blended woodwinds, strings and percussion—the same families of instruments he wanted to combine in his ‘contemporary’ consort—and allowed the players to embellish on the written parts. With this group, Winter became one of the earliest exponent’s of world music.
The Consort recorded twelve albums for major labels during the 1960s and 1970s. Four albums for A & M were produced by Paul Stookey and Phil Ramone, and one for Epic, named Icarus that bridged small-combo jazz and world music. This was produced by Beatles mentor George Martin, who claimed in his autobiography it was ”the finest record I ever made.” Astronauts of Apollo 15 took the Consort’s album Road to the moon with them and named two craters after the songs “Ghost Beads” and “Icarus.”
In 1972, with cellist David Darling, Winter organized a new ensemble, while original band members Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Collin Walcott and Glen Moore launched their experimental jazz band Oregon.
In 1968, hearing recordings of the songs of humpback whales further expanded Winter’s musical community. These sounds not only opened the door to the whole symphony of nature, but turned the saxophonist into an activist, affecting the course of his musical life. In 1975, Winter sailed aboard the Greenpeace V anti-whaling expedition for three days of playing saxophone to wild gray whales off the coast of Vancouver Island (Tofino). He was accompanied in this effort by Melville Gregory and Will Jackson, musicians attempting to ''communicate'' with the whales using various instruments and a Serge synthesizer. Photos of Winter and the whales [by Rex Weyler] appeared on wire services and in media around the world, helping the ultimate success of the mission against Soviet whalers. [AP Wire Service, 1975; ''Warriors of the Rainbow'', Robt. Hunter 1978; ''Greenpeace'', Rex Weyler, 2003; ''Once Upon A Greenpeace'', Will Jackson, 2012]
In addition to combining elements of African, Asian, Latin, and Russian music with American jazz, Winter became one of the first to incorporate the voices of nature and wildlife into his compositions. Beguiled by the poignant vocalizations of whales and the haunting, bluesey communal celebration of a howling pack of wolves, Winter was inspired to explore ways to consort musically with these creatures. This led the way to Winter pioneering another new genre – his unique “earth music.” Described as “ecological jazz” by fans in Russia, “La Fusion Animal,” in Spain, and “earth jazz” in Japan, it interweaves classical, jazz and world music elements with voices from nature. The landmark album Common Ground in 1977 was Winter's first endeavor to incorporate the voices of whale, eagle and wolf into his music.
As a part of Earth Music, Winter and his ensemble have honed their appreciation of resonance, and for making music in spaces of great reverberation. The Canyon album was recorded over four river-rafting and recording trips through the Grand Canyon. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, where Winter is artist-in-residence, shares a similar seven-second reverberation. Crestone and Prayer for the Wild Things were recorded in remote natural places with resonant acoustics; Miho: Journey to the Mountain was recorded in the acoustics of the Miho Museum designed by I.M. Pei.
Recording the Icarus album, in the summer of 1971, in the unhurried, unpressured atmosphere of a rented house near the sea was a landmark experience that underscored for Winter the importance of establishing a place where he could nourish his music and his community. Annual visits to the exemplary Maine homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing also inspired him to find land of his own where he could really live his music.
In 1980, with a burgeoning wish-list of albums the Consort dreamed of creating; the encouraging growth of an audience that not only listened, but cared about the Earth; and the accumulated frustration of experiences with large record companies, Winter founded his own label, Living Music Records. As a forum for his developing musical-ecological sound-vision, it also provided the recording context for the Consort and his community of colleagues and embraced voices from the great symphony of the wild. The name Living Music alludes to Winter’s primary intentions of striving toward timeless music; recording in natural acoustic spaces, like stone churches, canyons, or the loft of a barn; and creating music that would embrace the vital traditions of music he reveres, from Bach to Africa, and cello to wolf. Callings was Living Music’s first production: a celebration of the voices of the sea, in a double-album with 24-page color booklet featuring photos of the sea mammals.
A member of the Lindisfarne Association, founded by William Irwin Thompson, of scientists, artists, scholars, and contemplatives devoted to the study and realization of a new planetary culture, Winter met the Very Reverend James Parks Morton. Dean of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Morton invited the saxophonist to become artist-in-residence there, to build bridges between spirituality and the environment with his music. In the 1980s and 1990s, “the green cathedral” became known as the center of a vital community of thinkers and seekers working on issues of ecology and environment and world peace.
Since 1980, Winter has presented over 100 special events at the Cathedral, including annual Winter and Summer Solstice Celebrations, Carnival for the Rainforest, and the ecological mass, Missa Gaia/Earth Mass, which is performed annually each October as part of the Feast of St. Francis. Cosmologist Father Thomas Berry greatly influenced the development of Winter’s musical-ecological vision, and helped shape his intent to awaken in people a sense of relatedness with the larger community of life.
World Music One of the earliest proponents of world music since his sojourns in Latin America in the 1960s, Winter continued to be drawn by the music of Brazil. In 1992, Winter and Castro-Neves played a series of concerts during the Earth Summit in Rio. In 1998, Castro-Neves and Winter released Brazilian Days as an instrumental homage to the bossa nova lineage. In 2004, Winter met Brazilian singer Renato Braz, who performed at several Summer and Winter Solstice Celebrations over the next decade, including in 2012 with Brazilian singer and composer Ivan Lins. Over those ten years, Winter worked with Braz in São Paulo, New York and Connecticut for his debut album for the US, Saudade, released in 2015.
In the 1980s, Winter turned to the then Soviet Union, to seek out its wilderness beauty and listen for the voices of the Russian earth. He ventured as far as Lake Baikal in Siberia, in 1984, where he found such beauty that it lured him back many times to help raise awareness about the threats facing Russia’s sacred sea and its significance as a symbol in the growing environmental movement. Winter took part in the UN’s Beyond War Spacebridge and other efforts to join Russian and American people in peaceful collaborations. In 1985, the Consort toured the United States with Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. On a tour of the Soviet Union in 1986, the Consort met the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble when they performed together a concert at Moscow University. The two groups felt an immediate kinship, and the following year recorded the album EarthBeat in Moscow and New York — the first album of original music created by Americans and Russians together, a groundbreaking artistic achievement and social statement during the Cold War.
To date, Winter has produced 45 albums for his Living Music label, in a range of genres. Winter worked with marine biologist Roger Payne and narrator Leonard Nimoy in 1986 to record Whales Alive!, an album of compositions based on melodies from whales. The Consort collaborated musically with beat poet Gary Snyder on Turtle Island. Winter’s Count Me Inis an album of bebop. His Grammy-winning Prayer for the Wild Things celebrates the ecosystem of the Rocky Mountains. Pete Seeger’s Pete, which Winter produced, received A Grammy for “Best Traditional Folk Album,” the folk musician’s first Grammy Award. Winter’s Journey with the Sun features Armenian vocalist and instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, and Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart, and was nominated for a Grammy as “Best World Music Album.” The Grammy-winning Miho: Journey to the Mountain reflects Eastern influences.
Celtic Solstice, another Grammy® winner, draws from the stellar Celtic musicians who have played at Winter’s annual Summer and Winter Solstice Celebrations at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, including Uilleann piper Davy Spillane, singer Karan Casey from the band Solas, Cherish the Ladies tin whistle player Joanie Madden and fiddler Eileen Ivers. Winter’s Journey with the Sun features Armenian vocalist and instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, and Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart, and was nominated for a Grammy as “Best World Music Album, ” while the Grammy-winning Miho: Journey to the Mountain reflects Eastern influences.
In 1968, Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary) producer of the first two Consort albums, came back from a Japan tour with a Koto and gave it to the band, suggesting they try using it. At that time, the Consort’s English horn player and cellist did not improvise. However, Winter guided them to try a four-way free improvisation, alto flute and sax, based on the koto 5-note scale. It sounded gorgeous, and opened the door for the group to play freely together. From then on, in every concert, Winter began including one “free piece,” with all the lights turned out. After the Consort was asked to do a residency of “master classes” at the Hartt School of Music in 1971, Winter found he was much more fascinated with how to unlock the unique music inside each person, by giving them safe, fun contexts for free interplay. No “wrong notes”, no worship of virtuosity, the dissolving of fears – all these things served to open new paths for people. He developed his SoundPlay workshops, and has since conducted 300 of these at universities, and centers such as Esalen, Kripalu and Omega, all over the country, as well as in Israel, Spain, and Japan.
After Winter's band changed its name to the Paul Winter Consort in the late 1960s, it contributed to the development of world music and space music. The Consort's 1972 release, Icarus, was produced by George Martin. Most of the musicians who worked on this album went on to form the jazz group Oregon. The Consort has continued over the years with different musicians.
In recognition of his musical and ecological work, Winter has received a Global 500 Award from the United Nations, the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal from the United States Humane Society, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, the Spirit of the City Award presented at New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine, and an honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Hartford, among others. [wikipedia.org]