Written by from National Public Radio
This episode of Piano Jazz features the unique music of soprano saxophonist Paul Winter. He joins host Marian McPartland, along with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and drummer Glenn Davis, for a set of ballads and originals. The set also features an additional special soloist — a humpback whale.
“It was very impressive,” remembers McPartland. “And we don’t often do a show so full of ballads. It was a different sort of show.”
The alto and soprano saxophonist was born and raised in Altoona, Penn. At the age of 5, he began playing drums, piano and clarinet. He found his instrument, however, when he began to play the saxophone in the fourth grade. He played several kinds of music, including Dixieland, big band and, eventually, bebop, in groups of various size while in school. In 1961, while Winter was in college at Northwestern University, his sextet won the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, and he joined Columbia Records at the behest of none other than John Hammond.
The Paul Winter Sextet was formed in 1962 with Winter on alto sax. The group toured nationally and internationally, even taking a State Department-sponsored tour of Latin America in 1962. Throughout the 1960s, the group’s performances and recordings brought it greater notoriety throughout the world. It was in 1967 that he established the Paul Winter Consort, a group that combined African, Latin American and Western instruments and musical influences. The group became one of the leading exponents of “world music.” The group’s first big album was Icarus, and the title song became the Paul Winter Consort’s theme song.
The group included guitarist Ralph Towner, reed player Paul McCandless, double bassist Glen Moore, cellist David Darling and percussionist and sitarist Colin Walcott. Walcott, Towner and McCandless eventually moved on to create their own group, Oregon, which continued the musical experiment started by Paul Winter. Winter disbanded the Consort after three albums for A&M Records — one of which, Road, accompanied the Apollo 15 astronauts to the moon.
From the 1970s onward, Paul Winter continued to push musical boundaries. At the same time, he was becoming increasingly involved in environmental causes. He began to blend these two passions, embarking on several breakthrough projects including now-legendary compositions that integrated the songs of humpback whales, as well as a similar project in which he played along with the howls of wolves. Winter further explored his concept of collaborating with nature on recording expeditions to the Grand Canyon.
Winter has performed more than 2,000 concerts, playing everywhere from major cathedrals — like Washington’s National Cathedral, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and New York’s St. John the Divine — to the White House and the palace of the Crown Prince of Japan. He has won numerous humanitarian, environmental and musical awards. Paul Winter records for his own label, Living Music.
Originally recorded May 5, 2008.