This is the 60th year of Paul Winter’s recording career as well as the 81st year of his life. For most folks, that’s a good track record and one could retire feeling like they’d had an impact on their chosen profession, but it seems that Mr. Winter’s just getting started. He’s set to release his newest recording called “Light of the Sun” on his own label, Living Music. This album is the first to feature his signature soprano sax as the primary “voice” on the 15 tracks and that’s something that he’s dreamed about doing throughout his impressive career. I’ve been a fan of that “voice” for many, many years and have had the privilege of chatting with him more times than I can truthfully remember. When I discovered that a new CD was coming out it seemed a great time to try to reconnect and find out how he’s been doing in 2020. After I had gotten a link to a preview of “Light of the Sun” and learned that he was more than willing to chat with me again, I began preparing for a long-awaited reunion. I ended up calling him at his home in northwest Connecticut on Sept. 21.
Q: Having listened to this album repeatedly over the last week or so, I just have to say that the peace it exudes is not only palpable but something that is needed nowadays with the pandemic and politics raising tensions all over the place. The 15 tracks flow together like a seamless tapestry of the sound your soprano sax has been making for six decades. All told, the 69-minutes of “Light of the Sun” is, in my opinion, the touch-stone of your career.
Winter: Well, that really makes my day because you are the first person I’m talking to about the album, and I haven’t known how it would all go down. It’s a feast for me. It’s more than I would probably need to put on an album, but it’s beyond any of those old considerations. It’s the first time I’ve really allowed myself to just play the pieces I love and weave together the best recordings I’ve done from these different spaces. I’m very heartened to hear that you feel that it does work.
Q: Oh, it works wonderfully, for sure! Now, I was looking through the “milestones” section of your press kit and discovered that you recorded on DVD a performance of your “Missa Gaia” that was released this year. But, what caught my eye was the fact that the performance took place in Maine. When did that happen?
Winter: Well, it was recorded a year ago April in Portland, and we only finished editing the video this spring. We were releasing it for Earth Day, but there was no way to do anything national with it. It’s at the point where choruses are now prohibited from singing. It (the performance) was a rare happening. … Camille Saucier, who is the choral director of those three choirs that came together, brought 175 people together for it, and it’s a real slice of American life. And the people so love singing; you get an energy that you never get from professional singers. (Professionals) can do great but, boy, when you have amateurs who are so grateful for the opportunity to sing, there’s a spirit that’s really unbelievable.
Q: Where was it recorded in Portland — at what venue?
Winter: At St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Q: That’s so neat! Now switching gears, if I might, I would imagine that this pandemic has put a halt to you getting out and performing live, right?
Winter: Correct, but we’ve been doing concerts from the barn here. We just did one Saturday (Sept. 19), our first-ever Autumnal Equinox celebration. In June we did our 25th annual Summer Solstice Celebration, which previously had been in a cathedral. On Aug. 1 we did an August morning concert subtitled “Midsummer Morning’s Dream” to mark the middle of the summer. They’re all on YouTube; they’re very different.
Q: How so?
Winter: The first two are more contemplative, which the Summer Solstice Celebration has always been because it’s at 4:30 in the morning in the dark and the video has footage of the woods here. The Aug. 1 one was done at 6 a.m. and that has more footage of us in it.
Q: Are there any upcoming livestreams that I could promote in this column, sir?
Winter: The next one is our Winter Solstice Celebration, the 41st, which we don’t know as yet if it will be in the cathedral or be here in the barn. but you can watch those (previous) three on YouTube, Lucky, right now. The one we just did Saturday is the most dynamic of the three; we really had a good time and played a lot of my favorites like “Sun Singer” and “Icarus.”
Q: And another thing one has to take into consideration is that you have such an incredible body of work to draw upon.
Winter: (Soft chuckle) There’s a lot, and over the last year and a half I’ve been half working on new music and half archiving. We put out an anthology last December called “Everybody Under the Sun.” It’s all the special guests we’ve had in the 38 years of the Winter Solstice Celebration — singers from 22 countries. That one was special. I felt great about that; it was really a feast of singers from the world. Our last one featured Noel (Paul Stookey), and that’ll be on NPR this December around solstice time. Yeah, Noel was our special guest, finally, after all those years, and it was our 50th anniversary of him producing our first album in ’58.
Q: That is so cool the way lives and talents intertwine over time. I’ll be sure to alert my readers about that show and the YouTube ones, as well. So, is there anything, sir, that you would like me to pass on to the folks reading this?
Winter: Well, everything is in the booklet that comes with the CD, and it’s a pretty extensive booklet. I spent a lot of time on it, because it had a lot of my thoughts over the year that I was involved making this album. It was started last September in Japan. As I say in the press release, I really regard this album as my testament as a sax player and in saying that I don’t mean to imply it is my last, actually I’m thinking it to be my first.
Q: That’s really good to hear, Paul, may there be many more to come. Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to add here?
Winter: Well, there’s a quote on the wall in the barn that you’ll see if you watch the livestream from Saturday’s Autumn Equinox Celebration, and the camera pans over to it at the end, and it says: “The forces of evil will win in the world only if enough good men and women do nothing,” from Edmond Burke in 1774.
Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.