Paul Winter: Music for "Gentle People"
Ask most record label owners who their audiences are, and they’ll most likely start talking demographics—age, sex, race and so on.
But not Paul Winter. When asked who the audience is for the Paul Winter Consort his Living Music Label, he pauses and says, “Our audience tends to be gentle people.” He adds, “They’re not really people with the attitude that they have to be in on the latest trend. Our music has a timeless quality.”
That timelessness has led to six Grammy awards, as well as the Global 500 Award from the United Nations, the Award of Excellence from the United Nations Environment Program, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal from the United States Humane Society and the Governor’s Distinguished Arts Award from the State of Pennsylvania.
Winter has played in over 2,000 concert halls, and has played Washington’s National Cathedral, the palace of the Crown Prince of Japan, and the Grand Canyon.
All this has won the Paul Winter Consort an extensive international fan base, including fans that have followed the Consort for over three decades.
Living Music was Winter’s foray into the world of independent music marketing long before the internet made self-marketed recordings common. Winter says, “We found ways to function outside the realm of the usual major label environment.”
It didn’t hurt that the Paul Winter Consort was offered a residency at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The Dean of St. John the Divine said the Consort could do anything they wanted as artists-in-residence, and thus began the now legendary Winter Solstice concerts, which have drawn crowds for thirty-two years. These concerts feature a huge gong, a descending globe of the earth, a holiday tree made of percussion instruments, and most importantly, new renditions of Consort classics, as well as surprising arrangements of Bach and pieces from new releases. The gentler, perhaps more intimate Summer Solstice concerts began later. These begin at 4:30 in the morning as the Consort welcomes in the sunrise.
So the “gentle people” keep coming out, and an expanding audience that doesn’t care whether this is jazz or New Age music learns of the Paul Winter Consort steadily.
The Grammy people keep putting Winter in the “New Age” category, while others, such as the Blue Note’s Jazz Interview Series recognize his contributions to jazz. Then again, Winter often builds on folk music from around the world (his production of Pete Seeger’s Pete won a Grammy in 1996).
So what to call it? This Examiner thinks Winter’s audience probably loves the Beatles, because each album offered surprises, forays into different genres, and growth. In fact, George Martin, legendary producer of the Beatles, said his production of the Paul Winter Consort’s Icarus was, “the finest record I have ever made.”
Not that the consort is anything like the Beatles. But the same experimentation, exploration and sense of wonder pervades Consort albums and concerts. Winter offers moments of intense cello-driven introspection, followed my audience sing-alongs and finely crafted small-combo jazz. Then there are simply moments of unclassifiable music. Perhaps it is best to call it Paul Winter music.