September 6, 2018

The Bowie Celebration

Bowie's Piano Man Cover

Pianist Mike Garson recounts his years touring with David Bowie in his newly-updated biography, Bowie’s Piano Man

“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 on Mike Garson

PIANIST MIKE GARSON WAS DAVID Bowie’s most frequent musician, on record and onstage, throughout Bowie’s life. They played over a thousand shows together between 1972 and 2004, and Garson is featured on over 20 of Bowie’s albums.

Around his teaching, performance and recording work, Garson is serving as the pianist, bandleader and stage emcee who anchors the well-received A Bowie Celebration spotlighting a flexible touring lineup.

The current touring ensemble is Garson, who was Bowie’s musical director with Luther Vandross and David Sanborn on the Young Americans 1974 tour, longtime Bowie veteran Earl Slick guitar, Gerry Leonard guitar, Mark Plati guitar, Carmine Rojas bass, drummer Lee John Madeloni, who is Slick’s son, and vocalists Bernard Fowler, Cory Glover, Joe Sumner and Gaby Moreno.

Rojas was the bassist on Let’s Dance; Mark Plati was the producer of the Earthling album, Gerry Leonard was Bowie’s musical director in the ‘90s on Heathen and Reality tours.

On September 28, 2018, the Bowie Celebration comes to San Diego area for a date at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay and a projected return for another Los Angeles appearance during September.

Scheduled for January 2019 are a slew of dates in Europe, England, and North America, beginning January 9th in Dublin, Ireland, with stops in Glasgow, Scotland and Manchester England. The Bowie Celebration band for the 2019 bookings will be a bit different.

“Our show will continue to be an unforgettable and critically acclaimed evening of Bowie songs featuring world class vocalists and an ever-rotating mix of hits and deep cuts,” Garson offered.

“David had an infinite source of music flowing through him, and his creativity was boundless. His sharing of the stage with his musicians was extraordinary, and he was a team player. That is why we need many singers to encompass his work,” added Mike, who in 2011 composed “A Tribute to David,” which appeared on his Bowie Variations album.

In May 2018, Backbeat Books published a revised and updated edition — the first in paperback — of the only biography of Garson, Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson. Written by Clifford Slapper, a fellow pianist who also played for Bowie, working closely with him on his last-ever television appearance.

In this revised and updated edition, there are new photographs as well as six new chapters, including Garson’s personal recollections of “life on the road with David Bowie” over the course of the nine world tours in which they played together. These new chapters also contain several more interviews with friends and collaborators such as Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, producer Ken Scott, who worked on six Bowie albums, and saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who led the Blackstar band.

IN JUNE 2018 I CONDUCTED A PHONE INTER-view with Mike Garson from his home in Bell Canyon, California.

Q: I know on tour you David and band members usually ate dinner before the gig at the venue, and sometimes after a show the promoter would take you guys out for a big nosh. But you and David hung out.

A: Yes. On tour we would talk about a lot of things. Charles Mingus. Stravinsky. Alan Watts. Classical music.

Q: In your book you detail one evening where David invited you over to his hotel suite to watch Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley movies.

A: Yes. I had only known David two weeks at the time. He would do imitations of them and ask me how he was doing. He had that much respect for me which was shocking.

Q You cite a discussion you had with Bowie in the book where David one time predicted his death in the age 69-70 period. He died on January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday, which is what exactly happened.

A: In the late seventies or early eighties David said “I’m going to die, you know, around 70,” of that nature. He said it to me like we’re talking. He didn’t question it. He didn’t have fear about it. It was matter of fact. And virtually he planned his life that way.

Q: In reading the book and journey through music, you inevitably become a messenger for some now silenced voices, especially David Bowie. After his death you really embraced your musical partnership with David, and not lamenting or distancing yourself from him posthumously. .

A: Yes. I felt him. I did. I think, without getting “too out there,” I felt he was communicating to me from the other side to “do it” and “take over” and see what happens. I really enjoyed playing “Word on a Wing” with David as I felt it to be a very deep song and maybe a cry for help. I hope he gets many of his questions answered now.

Q: In Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson it seems you took your David Bowie experience of the seventies for granted. You were thankful and very happy, but it wasn’t some super life-altering event for you. But now it appears you feel another way about that expedition.

A: Now that I looked back and have spent time on it I’m remembering and looking at my life with David 1,000 times bigger. I’ve been asked and when he was alive to do 30 tribute bands. I passed. Why would I want to do that when I had the real guy? I’ve always been playing jazz and classical gigs. But once the real guy wasn’t there I could get the music and his compositions out there. I grew up on Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and realized David was a great songwriter.

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 14 books. His debut literary music anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection, Vol. 1 was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other World Cottage Industries in February 2018.


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