When George Winston plays in Salt Lake City, it's more like an intimate gathering of friends that a piano concert at an elegant symphony house.

Winston thrives when casualness prevails. His tone toward the audience, his Levis and stocking feet and his witty comments are indications he wants his listeners to relax and have a good time.That they did. The evening was filled with a wide range of pieces and styles, a wild dance on stage and seemingly flawless playing.

His concert was as informal as a practice session, but a practice that he takes very seriously. Live performance has been the artist's focus of late, which explains the absence of a recent release. His last album, "December," was released in the early 1980s.

Winston dislikes categorizing his music, but if he has to, he'll call it pop instrumental. Most other people call it New Age or jazz. Winston himself has inspired numerous other pianists to compose and perform the soft, soothing melodies.

When Winston plays, he controls the piano. His hands move faster than the eye can follow. He uses the pedal almost continuously, but without any unpleasant "blurring" of tones. He touches selected keys lightly for the subtlest sounds.

Those with a view of Winston's hands dancing over the keyboard got a treat. Fingers climbed up and down scales and bounced through arpeggios. Sometimes they bypased the keys altogether when he reached inside to pluck the strings for an acoustic sound.

Winston's winter concert, (which he alternates with his summer concert every six months) included "Colors" and "Moon" from the "Autumn" album, the mesmerizing "Thanksgiving," and songs from the soundtrack of "The Snowman," a children's story.

After the success of last year's onstage dance, Winston again invited the more extroverted of his fans to come forward while he played music to boogie to, a mix of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," a Beatles classic and the theme from "Pink Panther." Dozens obliged.

Winston likes people to know where he's coming from, especially where his music is coming from. His pieces are inspired by the likes of Fats Waller and James Booker, children's stories and even a music box he had while growing up. Each song has a history or story, and each received an introduction from the pianist.

After nearly two hours of piano playing, Winston brought out a harmonica and played a tune that imitated a train. Before playing, he contrasted his guitar music to that being played at a rock concert next door. "I guess I'll call this 'light wood.'"

If all concerts put together were a huge feast, George Winston's part would be the dessert. It'd be something like a perfect cheesecake with home-grown strawberries on top -- fresh, fun and worthy of seconds. His concert left thousands of his Salt Lake friends, old and new, with a sweet taste in their mouths.