Connecticut's Paul Winter hosts a benefit for radio station WPKN on May 12

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Paul Winter/Paul Sullivan Benefit Show

Sat., May 12, 8 p.m. Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road, Westport. (203) 331-9756. $45, $75 for VIP seating.

 

"I guess I've been listening to WPKN for 30 years or more," says Paul Winter, apropos of his Saturday, May 12 Westport benefit for the nonprofit, listener-supported station. "I love the diversity—the station is one big melting pot." WPKN has been playing Winter's music at least as long as he's been listening, so the feeling is mutual.

Winter, a saxophonist with a special touch on the soprano, started out as a straight-ahead jazz guy but circa 1967 he answered to a different calling, forming the Winter Consort with influences from around the world—and a groundbreaking guitarist by the name of Ralph Towner. The 1972 Icarus album, featuring Towner's title song, was a major hit and a staple on free-form radio. Since WPKN was already well-established by then, the grooves were worn off at least one copy. Winter describes what he does as "earth music," with an "aspiration to celebrate the cultures and creatures of the whole Earth."

The benefit concert, a duo with pianist Paul Sullivan (reprising a seasonal concert at the Museum of Modern Art last December), was actually Winter's idea, upon hearing about WPKN's financial shortfall. As long-time listeners know, raising money has been harder for the station in the last few years, but the free-form station has had to get creative. Benefit concerts are one way of doing that, and it helps that WPKN has multiple musicians on the air, including Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz, who hosted a benefit screening of the new DVD documentary Chronology, former Wynton Marsalis bassist Phil Bowler and, fairly recent additions, longtime duo Buskin and Batteau.

Winter promises "music from different parts, the voices of different creatures, and a lot of stuff people haven't heard." The show is likely to include some material from Miho: Journey to the Mountain. The album, which won a Grammy for the best New Age album of 2010, was recorded at the I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, which is built into the Shigaraki Mountains near Kyoto and was inspired by the legend of Shangri-La.

Sullivan, Winter's duet partner in Westport, is a member of the Consort, and also plays with a trio and under the baton of top conductors, including Eugene Ormandy at the Philadelphia Orchestra and Arthur Fiedler at the Boston Pops.

WPKN, located in Bridgeport, is at 89.5 FM on the dial and http://www.wpkn.org on the web. The concert coincides with the departure, after three years at the helm as station manager, of Peter Bochan, who has the distinction of being one of the early programmers who helped create WPKN's progressive format. "I got to WPKN in late 1968 and first got on the air in May 1969, after 'covering' Woodstock for the station," says Bochan. "I was the first regular midnight broadcaster and worked every night until I fell asleep."

Bochan enchanted listeners with his topical collage program called "Shortcuts," later heard on New York's WBAI and other stations. He says now, "There were no restrictions on what we could do; we were smashing together mediums. The freedom really encouraged us to be eclectic." And that helps explain why WPKN and the seriously eclectic Paul Winter have been simpatico for so long.

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