The Bowie Variations for Piano
is an album by Mike Garson
, released in 2011
Garson was David Bowie’s longest and most frequent band member
. They performed together for both Bowie's first and last concerts in the United States as well as 1,000 concerts around the globe in between.
Garson provided the piano and keyboard backing on the Ziggy Stardust
tour of 1972-73 and his contribution to the song "Aladdin Sane
" (1973) gave the song an avant-garde jazz feel with lengthy and sometimes atonal piano solos.
I had told Bowie about the avant-garde thing. When I was recording the "Aladdin Sane" track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: 'play a solo on this.' I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, but then he said: 'No, that's not what I want.' And then I played a Latin solo. Again, Bowie said: 'No no, that's not what I want.' He then continued: 'You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that stuff!' And I said: 'Are you sure? 'Cause you might not be working anymore!'. So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take. And to this day, I still receive emails about it. Every day. I always tell people that Bowie is the best producer I ever met, because he lets me do my thing.
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 natuarally 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.
Garson engaged in his own solo career as a jazz pianist. He is regarded in the industry as one of the very few 'rock' pianists capable of performing extended piano solos. He remains one of the most highly sought-after session musicians with a unique sound of his own. In 1998, Garson joined The Smashing Pumpkins
for their Adore tour, playing piano, keyboards and synthesizer. His piano playing was an integral part of the Pumpkins' performance. After the tour, he joined The Smashing Pumpkins guitarist Billy Corgan
on his solo effort.
In November 2006, Mike accompanied Bowie and Alicia Keys during a unique performance of "Changes" at an AIDS benefit in New York City which ended up being Bowie's final public U.S. performance.
A comprehensive biography of Garson's life and career to date was published in 2015, under the title Bowie's Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson. Garson and his wife have two daughters and seven grandchildren. They lived in Bell Canyon, California where Garson had his recording studio, until the 1998 Woolsey California Fires hit, leveling both Garson's home and studio to the ground. Mike and fellow David Bowie band alumni began touring in 2018 with their new show A Bowie Celebration: The David Bowie Alumni Tour and continues the tour in 2019.