(Ark Music)


Although he’s been defined by various theistic imagery in his music, keyboardist / composer Jeff Johnson is also renowned for his excellent instrumental recordings in recent years. On the 2013 CD release of Winterfold, Jeff is joined by Brian Dunning (flutes, whistles) and Wendy Goodwin (violin). That core trio sound is rounded out on CD by Tim Ellis (guitar), Phil Baker (bass) and Mike Snyder (percussion). Clearly flourishing within a progressive Celtic instrumental realm, Winterfold tastefully accents elements of New Age and neoclassical music. As is the case with Johnson’s recorded collaborations with guitarist Phil Keaggy, (Frio Suite and WaterSky) the sound of Winterfold is also by nature reflective and meditative. On Jeff Johnson’s latest CD you can almost sense the dying of the light as the year draws into the depths of winter, at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere. Although the reflection and darkness of winter is upon us, the introspective nature of Winterfold is almost redemptive in nature. Johnson’s reverent domain rises to the fore on Winterfold and the music is almost prayer like in tone and style making the album an excellent choice for fans of radiant instrumental music. presents an interview with

: Winterfold is the new collaboration between you and Brian Dunning and Wendy Goodwin. Is Winterfold the name of the band and the name of the CD? How did you meet these musicians, how many albums have you recorded with them and what’s the chemistry like between you?

JEFF JOHNSON: Winterfold is the title of the new CD and takes it’s name from a poem by the Orkney Island writer, George MacKay Brown. Brian Dunning and myself have been working together for nearly twenty-five years having recorded seventeen full albums on the Ark Music label as well as being featured on numerous Celtic music compilations released by Windham Hill, Hearts of Space, Sparrow, Sony, etc. Wendy Goodwin has been part of the trio for five years.

I love this trio and the chemistry in the studio and on stage is very, very good. There is a tremendous respect each of us has towards one another as musicians, composers and human beings and I think it comes across in the music.

mwe3: How would you describe the music of Winterfold? Would you call it New Age, Celtic, soundtrack music or contemporary spiritual instrumental? What are the various musical elements that go in to make the Winterfold sound?

JEFF JOHNSON: In the past, I would have answered “Contemporary Celtic” but really the music that we’re playing is better labeled “Contemporary Chamber Music”.

I’m a keyboard player so there’s lots of subtle synth sounds that I employ along with the loops and percussion that I use to support the leads playing on flute and whistles (Brian) and the violin (Wendy). In the recordings, I typically add guitar (Tim Ellis), bass (Phil Baker) and some other subtle percussion (Mike Snyder). Brian also adds the occasional accordion part and I’ll sneak in a backing vocal or two on these all-instrumental offerings.

mwe3: How do you and Brian Dunning collaborate on the melodies, sound and arrangements on the new album and in what ways how did the other musicians, Tim Ellis (guitars), Phil Baker (bass) and Mike Snyder (percussion) who contribute, improve or enhance the sound of the Winterfold tracks?

JEFF JOHNSON: One of us usually comes up with a complete melody. I put on my producer hat and pick which ones we’ll concentrate on, often weaving several together in a single piece. Wendy is also a very good writer herself and brings a great sense of melody to the music. That’s one thing that we’ve always respected—melody. And, when we go to figure out how to play these songs live, we tend to pick the songs that have the strongest melodies to perform. There’s also a high level of improvisational skills in the trio and that plays into both the recordings and the performances.

In the early stages of production, I usually have a good sense of the compositions form and will almost always add guitar, bass and some percussion elements at that time. Tim, Phil and Mike are my “go to” guys for this and the commitment to using them regularly over the years has enhanced the process since they often know what I’m looking for in a given song even before I tell them.

mwe3: The Winterfold track “Watching Clouds” is brilliant. What was the inspiration behind that track and how did it fit into place?

JEFF JOHNSON: Brian wrote the main melody while I composed the opening piano section. Often our songs go through many different titles as the recording process progresses but this one was always about clouds. There’s just something about that plaintive melody coupled with the keyboard figure that gives one the sense of clouds passing by.

mwe3: How did you become interested in the poet George Mackay Brown, who is from Orkney Island and in what ways did he influence the Winterfold sound? What place does poetry fit into your music?

JEFF JOHNSON: I was fortunate to meet GMB years ago on a visit to the Orkney Islands. His writing has been a great inspiration for me through the years. I wouldn’t say that his poetry determined much of the music on this CD, but the beauty and wonder of his poetry along with that by other poets that I enjoy effects all of my music.

mwe3: How many albums have you released and how has your music changed over the years? Do you still listen to rock and other musical genres or are completely immersed in the New Age / spiritual instrumental genre. What music including rock, New Age and instrumental still excites you these days?

JEFF JOHNSON: I’ve lost count but it’s nearly fifty, if not more! I listen to all kinds of music and am always looking for new music to hear and be inspired by. Many of my favorites have been recommended to me by friends over the years. That’s what’s great about music—especially these days with the unlimited offerings on the internet there is so much good music out there!

I respect great musicianship so sometimes it’s just a great performance. But I also am taken by music that inspires wonder in my soul and takes me places. That’s always been what I’ve attempted to do with my own work.

mwe3: “Three Rings” is another highlight of the Winterfold CD. It’s like a mini symphony in a way. What’s the story and history of “Three Rings”?

JEFF JOHNSON: “Three Rings” is a great example of Brian doing “his thing”! He has a great ability to weave several melodies together into a single piece. The challenge for me as a producer, and I enjoy it immensely , is to take those melodies and meld them into a single composition. Many of the “classic” Johnson-Dunning pieces combines several melodies and ideas into a single composition that features a range of moods and dynamics.

mwe3: What keyboards are you playing on the CD and has there been any new additions to your gear as far as new instruments, and other new studio effects including computers and other software programs?

JEFF JOHNSON: Most all of the work is done in Logic using soft synths that include Omnispere, Absynth 5, Ivory, Korg Wavestation and Stylus RMX. I also use a lot of sample libraries that are played using EX24 in Logic. My keyboard controller is the Yamaha P250 which is what I use to perform live with.

mwe3: You recently did some shows with Winterfold in the Washington State and Oregon area. What were those shows like, how were you received and do you think at some point you’ll release a DVD of your music and the Winterfold sound too? Would you consider making a documentary of your musical history?

JEFF JOHNSON: The trio is great live. There are a number of recordings of us playing in this recent tour that I’ve uploaded for folks to enjoy. We’ve also made a video of the “Watching Clouds” recording that’s just come out. And, yes, I intend to do some more live filming of this trio in the near future for folks to enjoy.

mwe3: How are you planning to spread the word about your music with Winterfold to the rest of the US and the world in fact? What musical projects are you planning for 2014 and beyond?

JEFF JOHNSON: Any way that I can! I am fortunate that I already have a musical following who are interested in what I’m recording. Having said that, the exposure we get from folks like yourself and other music sites and bloggers as well as features on NPR (Echoes, Hearts Of Space) and through Pandora are very helpful. The best form of advertising is word of mouth and the internet makes that fairly simple these days.

As to my 2014 plans, I’m working on a new solo vocal recording. I think that Phil Keaggy (Frio Suite, WaterSky) might look to start something new towards the later part of next year, too.

Thanks to Jeff Johnson @


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