It was 1974 and I had fallen under the spell of David Bowie in a big way. He had just released "Diamond Dogs", his post-apocalyptic nod of the hat to A Clockwork Orange. I had heard a few songs previously but this record just had me in its sights. The thing that really stood out for me was the piano work of Mike Garson. He gave the songs a sense of melancholy that matched David's despondent voice and it really grabbed my ears. THEN I heard "Aladdin Sane" and the maniac piano solo at the end of it. There were more notes shooting out of the piano than you could believe. It was as if a crack-fuelled spider wearing Doc Martens was given free reign over a keyboard.
From then on I was a major fan of Mike Garson. He is as comfortable in the rock world as he was in the classical and jazz arenas. He is in demand as a session and live performer, playing almost every Bowie record from 1973 to the present. He's been invited to accompany Stan Getz, Stanley Clarke, Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins and many more.
In addition, the prolific Mr. Garson is constantly creating and even giving away many of the compositions via his MySpace site. Striving to give back to the industry that has afforded him a career, he is presently offering up a special rate for his services, to indie or new artists.
I quizzed Mike by e-mail this week and found him as friendly as he is talented. Here's what he had to say.
antiMUSIC: You have been responsible for helping shape some of the most memorable music in rock history. Your other passions are classical and jazz. Is there a sort of constant inner turmoil between the various parts of your musical make-up or are you content to work in the rock field with your various collaborators and then delve into the many other avenues within your own studio set-ups?
Mike Garson: In the earlier days I was a bit resentful when not doing my jazz or classical work but these days I love all the work I am doing and sometimes the rock stuff is even winning out!! There's something more liberating with the rock attitude.
antiMUSIC: At what point did piano come into your life? Were you a willing participant in piano lessons or were you dragged kicking and screaming into them?
Mike Garson: A little of both at age 7
antiMUSIC: Is it possible to articulate what it was about the sound of piano that resonated with you, as opposed to guitar or drums?
Mike Garson: Its not possible except the only instrument for me is the piano. I'm similar to Chopin in that way.
antiMUSIC: Most kids start off with classical pieces when learning piano. At what point were you introduced to jazz and was it love at first sight?
Mike Garson: At about 14 and I got hooked with Erroll Garner and Dave Brubeck and then it just kept expanding.
antiMUSIC: What kind was your first piano and did you use it very long?
Mike Garson: A small piano called a Lester. It was a console type. Smaller than an upright.
antiMUSIC: My parents had to sell our upright when we moved and although I never knew what kind it was, I was never able to find the sound that it had.
Mike Garson: Sometimes the uprights have a cool sound.
antiMUSIC: You are famous for your skills at improvisation. At point did you realize you had this gift and how long before you were "polishing" other people's material?
Mike Garson: At about 12 I think. I started changing around classical pieces and my classical teacher told me I had delusions of grandeur! Lol
antiMUSIC: When did you begin to take your abilities out of the practice area and interact with other musicians?
Mike Garson: At about 12 some rock guitarist knocked on my door and said lets jam and we played a blues together. I was hooked.
antiMUSIC: Who was your first studio experience with and what do you remember from it?
Mike Garson: It was a '50s rock session. That's all I remember!
antiMUSIC: Beginning a musical relationship that has lasted until the present, you played on the Aladdin Sane record by David Bowie in 1973. How were you introduced to David and what were your initial impressions of him? Were you aware of his music?
Mike Garson: Annette Peacock told David about me. I recognized instantly his gift but didn't know his music.
antiMUSIC: Your track on the Aladdin Sane session is one of the most iconic rock-oriented piano solos of all time. It simply made the song. How many takes was that and what can you remember about that session? Were any other songs recorded at that session?
Mike Garson: There were 3 takes - a blues solo and a Latin solo, then the avantgarde solo!
antiMUSIC: From there, you began to play with other musicians such as Mick Ronson. Were you seeking these gigs out or were they beginning to come to you?
Mike Garson: They just arrived almost magically.
antiMUSIC: At the same time, opportunities in the jazz field were opening up such as playing with Stanley Clarke and Stan Getz. You also began playing with Free Flight. How did these involvements develop?
Mike Garson: When you practice so many hours a day for so many years it tends to increase the odds of getting work as you have a large musical vocabulary to choose from.
antiMUSIC: You were also beginning to release solo records. Was this to quiet your inner musical voice or were you trying to establish a solo presence to lead to other things?
Mike Garson: It just felt right at the time. Most are all out of print!
antiMUSIC: You went on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins in 2000 and previously had recorded with Nine Inch Nails. How did these relationships begin?
Mike Garson: I think those bands were aware of my connections to David and they probably had a vision how my music would fit in to theirs.
antiMUSIC: At what point did you start utilizing electronic instruments and how did they fit into your compositional scratch-pad? Do you use piano for one style, synthesizers for another, and computer-generated sounds for others?
Mike Garson: I got my first Wurlitzer electric piano in 1959 as a present from my sister. I love all keyboards and the music usually dictates what to create on. Piano usually wins out although I have tons of keyboards.
antiMUSIC: What is NOW! MUSIC and what are your hopes for it?
Mike Garson: It's a movement of music I started creating in 1994 where I would improvise classical type music and it sounded written. I use a Disclavier Yamaha piano which is a modern day player piano and it records midi data. A great tool. I have composed 2300 pieces this way in the last 12 years. I never play the piece but the one time and then other classical pianists perform them. Hence the name Now! as I like to play what I feel at any given moment and once that's over I don't look back.
antiMUSIC: You have made it known on your MySpace site that you are available to contribute to recordings by musicians who don't have the luxury of a major label behind them, for an affordable price. Why do you feel it is important to make yourself available to young musicians?
Mike Garson: It's mutual as it keeps me in touch with young and upcoming artists who have something to say and pulls different musical notes out of me. Basically I just enjoy creating.
antiMUSIC: You've given away over 50 songs from your MySpace site over the past few years. In this climate of what's mine is mine, why are you so generous with your music?
Mike Garson: As I have written 4300 pieces in total, what's a mere 50? Additionally why not share?
antiMUSIC: With all of the miles on your fingers, do you still play every day or do you just do it when you are so inspired?
Mike Garson: Most of the time everyday but its even greater when the inspiration hits.
antiMUSIC: Especially for the rare breed of musician such as yourself that is seemingly able to just tap into some kind of other-worldly energy, when you're playing do you feel you are channeling something outside of yourself - a sort of spirit of music? Or are you very much in control of the idea flowing between mind and fingers?
Mike Garson: Actually both but when at its best, it feels bigger than me for sure.
antiMUSIC: What's on tap for you in 2007 and beyond?
Mike Garson: Several solo and trio gigs and a few new cds both in classical jazz and rock.
antiMUSIC: Anything else you would like to mention that I did not ask?
Mike Garson: No. You asked very good questions. Thank you Mike Garson
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thanks Mike Garson for doing this interview.