Interview with Stephanie Winters

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Stephanie Winters
Stephanie Winters

Interview by Scott Preston

Classically trained cellist Stephanie Winters is a pioneer in bringing the strength and richness of her instrument to different musical forms and genres. More than 100 artists have sought Stephanie out to record and tour with them, including Corrine Bailey Rae, Paula Cole, The O’Jays, Dar Williams, and Anne Murray.

Since 2004 Winters has been a cornerstone of Richie Havens‘ live show, playing more than 100 performances a year in North America, Europe and Australia with the Woodstock legend. She played on Havens last release, “Grace of the Sun”, and is featured on Havens’ forthcoming CD “Nobody Left to Crown” which was just released in Europe and is slated for a 2008 release in the United States.

Winters’ CD of multi-tracked cello music, “Through The Storm”, featuring works by Miles Davis, Bela Bartok, Ornette Coleman, and original compositions has received widespread acclaim. It is available through this website and at Stephanie’s live performances.

Winters began her cello studies in the fourth grade in the Levittown, Long Island public school music program. She went on to graduate from The Juilliard School, Purchase College, and Columbia University. In the 1990s Winters and songwriter/guitarist Walter Parks toured and recorded as The Nudes. Winters resides in New York City.

Cincy Groove: How did you end up playing with Richie Havens?

Stephanie Winters: Walter Parks (Richie’s guitar player) and I had a duo called The Nudes in the 90’s. We toured the folk circuit and opened for Richie a number of times. Richie said back then that he thought it would be great for us to play with him. Fast forward 10 years and Walter is lead guitarist. Walter and I had disbanded for quite a while at that point. They needed a cellist for Richie’s Graces of the Sun cd. I played on the record and then they asked me to play the record release. They then asked me to do a couple more gigs and then it just kept expanding. Now the 3 piece is Richie’s format.

Cincy Groove: Where did you goto college and what did you study?

Stephanie Winters: I went to Purchase College, an arts college in West Chester, just north of New York City. Then I got my Masters in Music Education at Columbia University. My undergrad degree was in classic cello performance. I never played much classically professionally or taught (laughing).

Cincy Groove: I noticed that you have collaborated with a lot of different musicians, when did that all start happening?

Stephanie Winters: It started in about 1990 or 1991. After college I decided I didn’t want to play in an orchestra. The freelancers I knew seemed bitter and unhappy. It takes a lot of discipline to be in shape and play. So I started playing guitar and singing for fun. I’m a working class girl so I grew up with my friends listening to Led Zeppelin and classic rock type music. I started playing all that stuff on guitar, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell. Then I started meeting other songwriter and the knew I played cello. They would ask me if I could play on their demo. I then realized I didn’t have to change instruments, just change genres.

At the time I was teaching guitar for a living. I quit doing that and went on the road with Walter Parks. Walter and I really started from scratch. When we were at our peak we were playing over 100 dates a year and supporting ourselves with our original music. We had 3 albums with national distribution. We kind of burned out after a while because its a pretty grueling lifestyle. I was also playing with Dar Williams and David Wilcox, people I have met on the folk circuit basically while Walter and I were opening for them.

About 10 years ago or so, I was one of the few cellists out there playing, now its very common. When I started people were like “A cello? we have never had a cello here”. Some of them didn’t even know what a cello was. There’s nothing unusual now about having a cello in a rock or folk band. When I started playing I almost felt apologetic about it. Classical musicians tend to feel that classical music is the highest form. When I started playing songwriter stuff I realized that just because you can play classical music doesn’t mean you can play this stuff. Its a whole different aesthetic and feel. There’s nothing worse than a classical player trying to rock out.

Cincy Groove: You said you listened to Led Zeppelin growing up. What other bands did you listen to?

Stephanie Winters: Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, lots of Beatles. The first 45 record I ever had was Time in a Bottle. The first LP I ever had was The Beatles – Let It Be, Bookends by Simon and Garfunkle, and Tea for the Tiller Man by Cat Stevens. Then when I started playing guitar I discovered more Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

Cincy Groove: I know you have played with a lot of great musicians. Are there any that stand out in your mind?

Stephanie Winters:

Cincy Groove: Are you working on any other projects?

Stephanie Winters: I have a cello trio that has been playing for about 5 years now. Now I’m exploring playing with a pianist doing improvisation. The pianists name is Michael Jones from Canada. We do completely improvised music which is new to me. I also started multi tracking with my cello. Which is now very common but when I started doing it I didn’t know of anybody else who had ever done it. The first multi tracking I did was about 10 years ago. Then I did an album of all multi tracked cello which is very elaborate and labor intensive. It took about 5 years to record and mix (laughing). The title track is about 15 minutes long and has 33 tracks of cello. Now I’m moving on to more improvisation because its so completely opposite to the cello tracking. Now I’m playing more by ear, instinct and impulse. It helps to keep playing with Richie fresh.

Upcoming tour dates:
Stephanie Winters with Richie Havens:
March 27, 2008 Massillon Museum Massillon, OH
March 28, 2008 Stuart’s Opera House Nelsonville, OH
March 29, 2008 Peach’s Grill Yellow Springs, OH
March 30, 2008 The Kent Stage Kent, OH
April 5 Monroe Township, NJ Richard P. Marasco Center for the Performing Arts
April 12 Framingham, MA Amazing Things Arts Center
April 18 Washington DC Turnage Theater
April 19 Pittsboro, NC Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance
April 22 Toronto, ON Hugh’s Room
April 23 Toronto, ON Hugh’s Room
April 24 Ottawa, ON Ottawa Folk Festival/ Centrepointe Theatre
April 25 Kingston, ON
April 26 Montreal, QE