Saxophonist Paul Winter is returning to his roots. Not only is the Altoona native coming back to his home state, but he's also bringing back the ensemble that kicked off his professional career 50 years ago.
Mr. Winter, much better known for playing ambient or "New Age" music with his Paul Winter Consort, comes back to "bebop, or some people think of it as post-bop," performing tonight and Saturday at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz Hall with the sextet that he formed when attending Northwestern University outside Chicago.
The project was revived when "I put out an anthology of our early recordings, 'Count Me In,' which was our theme song," Mr. Winter says. Requests to do live shows followed.
The original Paul Winter Sextet, which he said was influenced by big bands and small groups of the 1940s and '50s, comprised Mr. Winter on alto and occasionally soprano sax, the late Les Rout on baritone sax, the late trumpeter Dick Whitsell, pianist Warren Bernhardt, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Harold Jones.
"We won the 1961 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, and we were signed to Columbia Records," for which the group recorded three albums in 1962, Mr. Winter says. Afterward, the State Department sent the group to Latin America as the top college band, with the sextet touring 23 nations for six months.
"We were a perfectly integrated band" -- three white members, three black members -- which Mr. Winter says became an issue because of the civil rights movement being in full swing.
After the tour, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy invited them to the White House, where they performed the first jazz concert there, in the East Room, on Nov. 19, 1962. The group broke up after President Kennedy's assassination the next year, most members moving on to other projects.
Today Marvin Stamm, the former New York studio stalwart, handles trumpet duties, with Howard Johnson playing baritone and Jamey Haddad on the drums; Mr. Bernhardt and Mr. McBee are still involved. Mr. Jones also still plays but only occasionally due to his ongoing gig with Tony Bennett.
"We knew Marvin; he was our contemporary," Mr. Winter says. "He was [at the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival] with the North Texas State Band -- we've known him since then -- and Howard happened to be a good friend of our original baritone player."
The music is "mostly original, [by] different members of our group," Mr. Winter says, although some of it was composed by Jimmy Heath, Lalo Schifrin and Tom McIntosh. Of the 34 tunes that make up the anthology, which was released last November, 12 are never-before-released tracks. Seven came from the White House concert.
"This is my first musical world, professionally," Mr. Winter says. "It's a special genre, with a special band."
Rick Nowlin: email@example.com or 412-263-3871.