“It is pointless to talk about his ability as a pianist. He is exceptional. However, there are very, very few musicians, let alone pianists, who naturally understand the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl themselves into experimental or traditional areas of music, sometimes, ironically, at the same time. Mike does this with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart glad just to be in the same room with him.”
– David Bowie –
Mike, you have had an illustrious musical career, both as a solo performer and composer, and one that has seen you collaborate with musicians such as David Bowie, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Mick Ronson, St. Vincent, Seal, and Free Flight amongst many others. Can you tell us a little bit about the early days after you first graduated from Brooklyn College with a music degree?
The first days consisted of small but great jazz gigs in New York. I used to practice eight hours a day, and then go to a six hour jazz gig. It was the best apprenticeship possible.
Dr. John was a guest pianist on your first two albums with the band, Brethen. Did he influence your musical approach?
Yes he did regarding blues playing. He’s a giant.
How did you first meet David Bowie and begin working with him?
It was through Annette Peacock whose album I had just played on called ‘I’m The One’. She knew David and recommended me.
What specifically do you think it was about your style of playing that attracted David?
I think it was the wide range of jazz, classical and avant-garde with bits of rock and pop. But only David really knew… as it was magical. I was only booked for eight weeks and lasted until the end.
You shared a special relationship with David Bowie, having played piano on twenty albums, and after being on the road together for nine world tours. Do you have a personal favourite Bowie song or album?
1000 concerts later… I would say I love ‘The Motel’, ‘Shadow Man’, ‘Aladdin Sane’, ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, ‘Time’, ‘Strangers When We Meet’, ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘My Death’, ‘Wild is the Wind’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Changes’ and ‘Space Oddity’.
You have also have a very successful solo career as a jazz pianist. Is jazz your first love?
Piano is my first love, then improvisation be it jazz rock or classical.
In 2014, fellow pianist and author, Clifford Slapper, published a biography about your life and career: ‘Bowie’s Piano Man’. It must have been a wonderful opportunity for you to look back over such a prolific career, and I understand that you’re now collaborating again?
Yes, currently Cliff is finishing up an additional 100 pages for the second edition.
Two years ago, you released ‘Symphonic Healing Suite’ which was a collaboration between medical patients and a brain surgeon at the Foundation for Neuroscience, Stroke and Recovery. What led to this composition, and can you share any relevations re the connection between music, the brain, and the healing process?
It’s what we all know intuitively. Music heals. Thank god we have music.
How do you access your creative spirit? Are there any special rituals that you follow to get there?
Just surrendering everything and anything all the time to god. In other words, getting out of my own way.
When you’re not working, how do you like to relax, and does music ever play a part?
By composing and playing music!
Which musicians excite you the most today, and who do you listen to when you are not playing?
Bowie. I listen to Beethoven, and whatever strikes me at the time.
You are just about to embark on a series of concerts in London, New York, LA, Sydney and Tokyo where you will be celebrating the music of David Bowie in honour of what would have been his 70th birthday, all in aid of local charities. Can you tell us a little bit more about ‘Celebrating David Bowie’.
It’s an enormous project with thirty or more musicians. I don’t have a clue how it will unfold, but I will play it for David!
For further information, please visit: www.mikegarson.com
For further information on the ‘Celebrating David Bowie’ concerts, please visit: www.celebratingdavidbowie.com
Purchase a copy of Clifford Slapper’s biography: ‘Bowie’s Piano Man’ here