George Winston, Celebrated Composer, Writes Latest Album while Recuperating at City of Hope

January 11, 2018 | by Michael Easterling

George Winston | City of Hope Pianist and composer George Winston
Celebrated acoustic solo pianist George Winston spent most of the first quarter of 2013 at City of Hope, recuperating after receiving a lifesaving bone marrow transplant to cure his myelodysplastic syndrome, which can be a precursor to acute myeloid leukemia.

In the late afternoon and evening, Winston would walk the gardens of the campus to relax. At night, he would often find himself in City of Hope’s Cooper Auditorium, where there is a piano used for concerts and recitals. Sitting alone at the keys as he had done thousands of times over the course of his 47-year career, Winston began composing music.

“These songs just came to me,” he said, grateful for the access to the piano during his convalescence. “I would go every night, play the piano and write new music.” Twenty of the themes he created in the auditorium evolved into compositions he labeled “carousels.”

“I was influenced by the swirling, circular motion of merry-go-rounds, music boxes, the planets, the moon and the stars,” he explained. There were also three other types of songs he composed during that time that also ended up on the recording: up-tempo pieces he calls “Ms. Mysteries,” “Bouquets,” which are slow ballads, and “Pixies,” pieces inspired by the New Orleans pianist James Booker.

Winston ended up writing 58 new songs, 15 of which were carefully selected and produced to form his latest album, “Spring Carousel: A Cancer Research Benefit.” One hundred percent of sales of the album benefit City of Hope.

Conceiving this album at City of Hope, I knew after it was recorded that it needed to be a benefit album,” Winston said. 
 
The album is available now as a CD and on all digital platforms. It is Winston’s 18th album and 14th solo piano album.

Reviews of the album have been exceedingly positive. “A depth of piano brilliance,” wrote online music magazine, The Grateful Web. “It sinks into one’s soul, never leaving the listener eager for anything other than the next swirling song on the recording.”

A resident of Santa Cruz, California, Winston first came to City of Hope for treatment of thyroid cancer in 2008. He was later treated for basal cell carcinoma. He came back here in September 2012 after experiencing a health episode at a concert in Idaho.

“I just laid on the floor of my dressing room and couldn’t move, I was so weak,” he said. After a trip to the emergency room, the musician was transferred to City of Hope, where he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease that affects about seven out of every 100,000 people.

Through Be the Match, a donor was found and Winston received his transplant on Nov. 22, 2012. He met his donor, Antonia Klyn, then 22, at the 38th Celebration of Life Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion at City of Hope in 2014.

While all the songs on “Spring Carousel” were created on campus during his recovery, it is track 9, “Night Blooming,” that Winston says is a direct reflection of his time spent at City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital.

“It’s about how the body heals while sleeping at night,” he said of the song. “It was as if I composed this in the hospital room itself.”

Winston was a patient of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.

“The way we work is similar,” Winston said of Forman. “We both often stay up all night, and we try to make sure there’s food and water near us while we’re working so that we remember to eat and drink. He is the friend I didn’t know I had.”

Winston is now five years into his full recovery. He is currently touring with “Spring Carousel.”

This album exists because of City of Hope’s wonderful research and treatment, and for having access to that piano,” he said. “Without the incredible help of City of Hope, “Spring Carousel” would not be possible.”
 
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