Through his lyrical and intensely communicative music, George Winston has seized the ears of America's listeners. He is quickly becoming a leader in the jazz piano scene.
He has produced two highly acclaimed and successful albums: the 1980 hit ''Autumn'' (Windham Hill, C-1012)), which has sold 175,000 copies, and ''Winter Into Spring'' (Windham Hill, C-1019), which soared into the top 10 on the charts this fall and still resides in the top 20.
It is no wonder, then, that Winston's recent East Coast appearance, played under the spires and arches of Boston's Emmanuel Church, drew an overflow crowd that resulted in an added second show. Winston - who plays what he calls ''folk piano,'' a mix of impressionist, blues, black gospel, and stride piano - did not disappoint the expectant crowds.
From nearly the first note, he held the audience entranced with insistent and diverse musical power. On ''January Stars,'' he spun out his trademark: simple recurrent melodies that sift gently into your ear. But just as the mood was about to soften into sleep, he'd jump into a runaway version of some ragtime-style tune, or delight the crowd with his dry humor.
The center of his too-short, 90-min-ute set saw him whip out three harmonicas and switch from a refined, professional jazz pianist to a backwoods harp wailer (his attire for the show - jeans, plaid shirt, and stocking feet - certainly added to that mood). Eyebrows flicking, hands flapping, and lungs pumping air into the instrument, he blew out three tunes that varied from an accelerating train to the rising of the morning sun.
Despite the mellow, often emotional sound that marks many of his compositions , Winston commands the piano, his touch firm and pronounced. This was evident in ''Rain/Dance,'' probably the show's highlight. This composition thundered with lower-octave notes, even as it evoked images of small droplets splattering on windows.
''December'' (Windham Hill, C-1025), a collection of winter tunes and Christmas carols, is Winston's just-released new album (it debuted at No. 24 on the charts). Fittingly, he closed this end-of-the-year concert with two selections from that fine disc. His slightly upbeat arrangement of ''Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel,'' breathed life and wonder into the overplayed baroque classic. And on a yuletide favorite, ''Carol of the Bells,'' he sent peals and chimes tumbling out of the keyboard - and the audience responded with two instantaneous and lengthy standing ovations.
Winston is planning three new albums for Windham Hill and - having been producer for Scott Cousso's recent release ''Wind Dance'' (Windham Hill, C-1016) - plans to launch further into production by starting his own label next year.