In 1968 Paul Winter heard Dr. Roger Payne’s pioneer recording of the songs of the humpback whale. The result was a revelation: As Winter stated in a Living Music Records press release, “The poignant voice of the humpback whales changed my musical life and opened the door for me to the entire symphony of nature.” The experience sparked a commitment to create a new kind of music—what Winter refers to as “earth music”—in which the intricate improvisations of his ensemble are combined with the sounds of the earth: the piping of birds, the cries of wolves, the rumble of elephants, and the murmuring of mountain streams. For nearly three decades Winter has combined his devotion to this new art form with a personal pledge to work for the preservation of the natural environment. He has carried both his music and his message of conservation to places as diverse as the shores of Newfoundland, Canada, the wilds of Minnesota, the isolation of Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia, and the bustle of downtown New York City.
Winter seems to have been predestined to make his career in music. His grandfather was a band leader during the Civil War, and several relatives worked in vaudeville. Winter’s father was a piano tuner by trade and also ran a music store in the family’s hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. As a youngster, Winter played both piano and clarinet. Although he studied for ten years with a teacher of classical music, his heart lay in the sounds of swing and bebop, and at age 12 he switched to saxophone and organized his first band.
Winter’s first professional jobs were with a local symphony orchestra and, at age 17, as a member of a touring band with Ringling Brothers Circus. He then moved to Chicago, where he attended Northwestern University. He majored in English composition but did not abandon his musical interests, spending a great deal of time in local jazz clubs and becoming familiar with the work of such jazz giants as John Coltrane. In 1961, Winter formed the Paul Winter Sextet with several fellow college students; the group won a local jazz competition and was subsequently signed to a recording contract by jazz impresario and Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond.
The Paul Winter Sextet recorded seven albums for Columbia, and in 1962, at the behest of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, became the first jazz group to present a concert at the White House. The group also made three extensive tours of Latin America, during which Winter absorbed many of the indigenous sounds— including the Brazilian bossanova—that would provide
For the Record…
Born August 31, 1939, in Altoona, PA; son of Paul Theodore (a piano tuner and music store owner) and Beaulah Hamish Winter. Education: B.A. in English, Northwestern University, 1961.
Began playing piano and clarinet as a child; began playing saxophone and formed first band, 1951; played in local symphony orchestra; toured with Ringling Brothers Circus Band, 1956; co-founded Paul Winter Sextet, 1956; signed with Columbia Records, c. 1961; released first album, 1962; toured Latin America; first jazz ensemble to play at the White House, 1962; founded Paul Winter Consort and began consort workshops, 1967; signed with A&M Records, c. 1967; began developing “earth music,” 1968; named artist-in-residence at Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1980; founded Living Music Records, 1982; made trips to wilderness areas in the Soviet Union, 1984-85; performed at Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, and at Environmental Inaugural Ball, Washington D.C., 1993.
Awards: United Nations Global 500 Award; Award of Excellence from the United Nations Environment Program; Joseph Hutch Award from the United States Humane Society; Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award; Five Grammy Award nominations; Sun Singer named jazz album of the year by National Association of Independent Record Distributors, 1983.
Addresses: Home and office —Living Music, 174 Norfolk Rd., P.O. Box 72, Utchfield, CT 06759.
material for his later work. But the recordings of the Sextet did not sell sufficiently and in 1965, Columbia dropped the ensemble from its roster.
Two years later, somewhat disillusioned with his prosaic jazz career, Winter decided to forge a new path and founded the Paul Winter Consort. Visualizing his group as an updated version of the “Consorts of Musicke” popular in Renaissance England, Winter created a five-member improvisational ensemble of saxophone, cello—both amplified and acoustic—keyboard, guitar, and percussion.
As he told Elizabeth F. von Bergen of The Instrument, one impulse behind his establishment of the group was his belief that, unlike symphonic music, which is mainly for the pleasure of the audience, and chamber music, which is chiefly for the pleasure of the players, “consort music is for the enjoyment of everyone.” In keeping with this conviction, Winter conducted workshops at high schools during tours, at which he and members of the Consort taught amateur musicians to improvise together. Winter found these experiences especially gratifying; as he told von Bergen, “When they begin to consort, they discover that they’re capable of creating a beautiful interweaving of free-flowing sound.”
The original incarnation of the Paul Winter Consort recorded three albums for A&M Records, including Road, which the Apollo 15 astronauts took with them to the moon in 1971. However, Winter ultimately became dissatisfied with the group and disbanded it in 1972. For the next five years he explored his interest in “earth music,” becoming active in conservation groups such as Greenpeace and making successful attempts to communicate directly with creatures of the wild by playing his saxophone to whales off the coast of Canada and to timber wolves in California and Minnesota.
In 1977 the reunited Consort released Common Ground, its first attempt to combine instrumental improvisation with sounds recorded directly from nature. The technique was explored further on 1980’s Callings, which used the sounds of 13 different sea mammals, and 1987’s Whales Alive, wherein nearly all of the compositions were derived from the actual melodies sung by whales. Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock of the television series Star Trek, who illustrated his concern for whales in his script for the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, provided narration for Whales Alive.
Winter was appointed artist-in-residence at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1980. In 1982, he composed an ecumenical “Earth Mass” for the Cathedral. Winter also initiated the immensely popular annual tradition of the “Winter Consort Winter Solstice Whole Earth Christmas Celebration” at the Cathedral, which Frederick Allen of Wilderness described as “part jazz concert, part hootenanny, part New Age be-in, part Barnum spectacle, and all a paean to nature.” Also in the early 1980s, Winter established Living Music Records, on which all of his subsequent work—as well as that of many other artists—has been issued.
In 1985 Winter and the Consort released Canyon, a musical portrait of the Grand Canyon, recorded both at the Cathedral and during a rafting trip through the Canyon itself. The sixth track on the album, “River Run,” provides an excellent introduction to Winter’s fascinating aural world. In his liner notes to the album, Winter expressed his vision of the piece: “Conch shell and canyon wren call us to the river.. . run the river. . . new sights, new sounds around every bend. . . peace of slow water, exultation of rapids... rhythm never ceases, river flows on.” “River Run” begins with the music of birds, bubbling water, and actual conch shells being played in the canyon; these sounds are joined by a compelling Latin-tinged rhythm track and ultimately by Winter on saxophone, who, along with his fellow Consort members, weaves an elaborate fabric of improvisation over the unrelenting drive of drums, bass, and guitar. The tranquil murmur of the river returns to close the composition.
In January of 1993 the Paul Winter Consort performed at the Environmental Inaugural Ball in honor of President Bill Clinton. In April of that year the Consort released its 27th album, Spanish Angel, recorded live in Spain. The work continued Winter’s dedication to artistic exploration, love of the earth, and, as Winter explained to Wilderness contributor Allen, his primary musical message: “simply beauty.”
Jazz Premiere: Washington, Columbia, 1961-62.
Jazz Meets the Bossa Nova, Columbia, 1962.
New Jazz on Campus, Columbia, 1963.
Rio, Columbia, 1964.
Something in the Wind, A&M, 1969.
Road, A&M, 1971.
Icarus, Epic, 1972.
Common Ground, A&M, 1977.
Earthdance, A&M, 1977.
Callings, Living Music, 1980.
Missa Gaia/Earth Mass, Living Music, 1982.
Sun Singer, Living Music, 1983.
Canyon, Living Music, 1985.
Concert for the Earth, Living Music, 1985.
Living Music Collection ’86, Living Music, 1986.
Earthbeat, Living Music, 1987.
Wolf Eyes, Living Music, 1989.
Earth: Voices of a Planet, Living Music, 1990.
Anthems, Living Music, 1992.
Spanish Angel, Living Music, 1993.
Wintersong, Living Music.
The Man Who Planted Trees, Living Music.
Denny Zeitlin, Homecoming, Living Music.
Eugene Friesen, New Friend, Living Music.
Contributor to Friesen’s, Arms Around You, Living Music; Oscar Castro-Neves’s Oscar!, Living Music; Whales Alive (with Paul Halley), Living Music, 1987; Halley’s Angel on a Stone Wall, Living Music, 1991; Turtle Island (with Gary Snyder), Living Music, 1992.
Birosik, Patti Jean, The New Age Music Guide, Collier, 1989.
Audio, August 1986.
Booklist, February 15, 1992.
Down Beat, May 1986.
Instrument, May 1977.
Keyboard, October 1988.
New York Times, December 19, 1992.
People, October 6, 1986.
Sierra Club Bulletin, March/April 1986.
Soviet Life, June 1987.
Stereo Review, February 1986.
Symphony News, February 1980.
Variety December 24, 1986.
Whole Earth Review, Winter 1988.
Wilderness, Winter 1991.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from liner notes by Paul Winter to Canyon, Living Music, 1985, and Living Music Records, 1993.
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