George Winston’s December

Why it’s a holiday season classic

Jim Esch


Every year when December rolls around, I pull George Winston’s 1982 solo piano album December from the record shelf and give it a spin. This year it’s a bittersweet listen; in June Winston shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 74.

There’s no doubt that December has achieved classic status among instrumental holiday music albums. It’s certified triple Platinum by the RIAA. Billboard ranked it last year #13 in its top 25 Holiday albums, 40 years after its release.

Why is it a classic?

I’ll start with the record label. Winston was on Windham Hill, known for its audiophile quality New Age albums. Windham Hill records from this era exhibit a quiet, sonorous brilliance with consistency. You knew what you were getting back then with a Windham Hill record: something soft, spatial, a place to zone out in some subconscious zen corner of your mind.

Impeccably recorded, Winston’s steady, tender arpeggio patterns evoke the stillness of winter. It would make a fitting soundtrack for Robert Frost’s December poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Winston rides the sustain pedal throughout the set, and in the harmonic overtones you can virtually feel the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.

The cover art (photos by Greg Edmonds, design by Anne Robinson and Will Ackerman) perfectly accompanies the minimalist, cool and dark sweetness of the music. A lonely group of birches in the middle of a…