Eternal Music

Music CornerPaul Winter3
Paul Winter has had a long musical odyssey which has “embraced the traditions of the world’s cultures, as well as the wildlife voices of what he refers to as ‘the greater symphony of the Earth,” according to his website. From the early days of his college jazz sextet, which toured 23 countries of Latin America for the State Department and performed the first-ever jazz concert at the White House for the Kennedys in 1962, to his later ensemble, the Paul Winter Consort, his concert tours and recording expeditions have taken him to 52 countries. It has also found him in the wilderness areas on six continents, where he has traveled on rafts, dog sleds, mules, kayaks, tug-boats and Land Rovers.

Winter has recorded over 50 albums, of which seven have been honored with Grammy® Awards. In this interview, Winter talks about Concert in the Barn, which is his most recent release.

Music CornerPaulWinter1
Jupiter Index: Your recent album release titled, Concert in the Barn is a stirring mix of genres which feature artful mixes of instrumental songs. What made you produce it early in the morning and did bringing nature into the creative process help with the music?
Paul Winter: Our Summer Solstice Celebrations, over the past 27 years, have always taken place in the early morning, to greet the dawn of the longest day of the year, and to welcome the summer. We get our starting time from the birds, who begin to sing at 4:30am at that time of year.

Making our music when the birds are singing does give a sense, especially when we do this event in my barn here in the hills, that we are part of this larger community of life. And, the total darkness in which we are playing, in the first part of the concert, is my favorite context for both playing and listening.

JI: The music you play on this album seems to have healing quality. Can you say if that was your focus?
PW: Healing, to my mind, means "whole-making" – bringing us whole again. Playing music brings me whole more quickly than just about anything I can think of. But this is my experience, as a player, and I can't speak for how our listeners might experience it. And we don't think about this when we're planning or playing the concert. We simply want to put forth the best music we can.

JI: Talk about the singing on “The Silence of a Candle” with Theresa Thomason and “DNA” with Jeff Boratko. And how did these musicians come to this project?
PW: Theresa Thomason has been our featured singer for over a quarter of a century. I've long wanted her to sing "The Silence of a Candle," which our Consort guitarist, Ralph Towner, wrote in 1971, for our album Icarus. Ralph sang it on the album, and now, 50 years later, Theresa has made the second recording of it.

Jeff Boratko is a young bassoonist who lives in a nearby town, and I had invited him to be our double reed player in this concert, not realizing he is also a superb singer-songwriter. When he sang the song, "DNA" for me I was so moved that I insisted he sing it in the concert. And it was perfect serendipity to have Theresa be his duet-partner in the performance.

JI: The concert was recorded on June 19th, the day is known as Juneteenth, which is the day African American learned they were free from slavery. And the last song was a traditional anthem, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." How did that particular performance come about?

Music CornerPaulWinter2
PW: It was only two days before our June 19th concert when I realized that this was also the day of Juneteenth. I heard the news that President Biden had just declared Juneteenth to be a federal holiday, after well over a century of many state and regional celebrations of the milestone. "Sing Low, Sweet Chariot" has long been an anthem of Juneteenth, and I asked Theresa how she felt about singing it. She loved the idea, and we rehearsed this with pianist Henrique Eisenmann over the phone. Theresa's iconic performance of it benefitted, I think, from this spontaneity.

JI: You have an iconic mix of artists on this album. When you look back on the recording of it and all the music, what stands out for you on it? Would you like to say anything more about this album?
PW: The muse was with us on this morning. It was as if this deep-listening realm, beyond time, in the organic space of this barn loft, awakened all our faculties. Amazingly, every piece seemed to have what we call "first-take magic." Usually we feel lucky if we get one or two, in a concert. To have that on all 14 of our pieces is the equivalent, in baseball terms, of batting a thousand.

I came to think of this ensemble as a little community, than as a "band" - as an example of what a few friends can do when they get together. I love the intergenerational aspect of the ensemble. Jeff and Henrique weren't even born when Eugene and I started playing together, 40-some years ago. And I've long believed Theresa is eternal.

by G.M. Burns