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.” His concert tours and recording expeditions have taken him to thirty-seven 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.
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 producer John Hammond. 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. That 6-month tour of Latin America affected Winter in many ways, proving to be a true mingling of cultures and an exchange of musical and social ideas.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy shakes Paul Winter’s hand afte the concert
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 of music was blossoming there, called “Bossa Nova,” and following its return to the US, the group recorded an album of Bossa Nova. In the mid-1960s, Paul went to live for a year in Brazil and it became a second home for him. He recorded several albums. 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. Launched in 1967, the Consort became the forum for the whole world of diverse music which Paul loved. Paul Winter remembers, “I borrowed the name ‘consort’ from the ensembles of Shakespeare’s time, the housebands of the Elizabethan Theater, which adventurously blended woodwinds, strings and percussion, the same families of instruments I wanted to combine in our ‘contemporary’ consort.”
Hearing recordings of the songs of Humpback Whales in 1968 further expanded Winter’s musicalcommunity. The beguiling voices of the whales, and the haunting, bluesey communal celebration of a howling pack of wolves became part of his musical life. Exploring ways to con-sort with these and other voices of the wilderness led the way to Winter’s unique genre of “Earth Music”. His landmark album Common Ground in 1977 incorporated the voices of whale, eagle and wolf as a trilogy representing the realms of sea, air and land.
After having recorded twelve albums for major labels during the 1960s and ’70s, in 1980 Winter founded Living Music Records as a forum for his musical-ecological sound-vision. He has produced 45 albums on the Living Music label, of which seven have won Grammy Awards.
Winter Solstice Celebration, with the musical “tree of life” and Earth globe, at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Dec. 13-15, 2012. Photo by Clifford A. Sobel
Since 1980. Paul and the Consort have been artists-in-residence at the world’s largest cathedral, New York’s St. John the Divine, where they have presented over 100 special events, including annual Winter and Summer Solstice Celebrations, Carnival for the Rainforest, and their ecological mass, Missa Gaia/Earth Mass, which is performed annually each October as part of the Feast of St. Francis.
With his various ensembles, Paul has toured the world, performing over 3,000 concerts in 52 countries. In recognition of musical and ecological work, he has received a Global 500 Award from the United Nations, 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.