Mike Garson

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Mike Garson
Garson in Paris, 2006
Background information
Birth nameMichael David Garson
Born (1945-07-29) July 29, 1945 (age 73)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresRock, industrial, techno, jazz, funk, experimental, folk, instrumental, ambient
InstrumentsPiano, keyboards
Years active1964–present
External video
Oral History, Mike Garson reflects on his greatest musical influences. Interview date October 3, 2011, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library

Michael David Garson (born July 29, 1945) is an American pianist, who has worked with David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Corgan, Free Flight and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Early career[edit]

After graduating from Brooklyn College with a music degree in 1970, Garson was a member of rock/country/jazz band Brethren with Rick Marotta, Tom Cosgrove and Stu Woods. They recorded two hard-to-find albums on the Tiffany label, which featured guest piano and liner notes by Dr. John (and album photography by Murray Head, who scored a hit with "Say it Ain't So Joe," "Jesus Christ Superstar," and later with the single "One Night In Bangkok").

Garson also earned notice when he played on the I'm the One album by early 1970s experimental artist Annette Peacock. Bowie asked Peacock to join him on a tour; she declined, but Garson began an enduring working relationship with Bowie.

Work with David Bowie[edit]

Garson was David Bowie’s longest and most frequent band member.[1] 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.[2]

Garson provided the piano and keyboard backing on the later Ziggy Stardust tour of 1972-73 and his contribution to "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.[3]

Garson played also for Bowie's bandmate Mick Ronson on his first and last solo tour, and his first album (Slaughter on Tenth Avenue). Garson came to replace Ronson as Bowie's musical lieutenant on several occasions, notably on "We Are the Dead" from the Diamond Dogs album, where Garson's metronome-like keyboard provides a dramatic setting for Bowie's vocals, and on the title track to Young Americans where his jaunty piano leads the band. Garson played with Bowie on and off over the years, resurfacing on The Buddha of Suburbia and 1. Outside.

Music career[edit]

Parallel to this work with Bowie, 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.

Garson worked with the reformed Spiders From Mars in 1975, alongside Mick Woodmansey, Trevor Bolder, Dave Black (guitar) and Pete McDonald (vocals). They recorded one eponymous album in 1976 before going their separate ways.

In 1982, Garson became a member of the jazz ensemble Free Flight, founded by flautist Jim Walker.[4]

In 1993, Garson began a short-lived series of Screen Themes albums, jazz renditions of major themes and suites from film scores of 1993, and the following year, 1994. The latter album featured the recording debut of Jessica L. Tivens, at age 13, who had previously appeared on Star Search. Both albums were released by Discovery Records.

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 Corgan on his solo effort—the soundtrack for the movie Stigmata, and played on the piano section of "Glass and the Ghost Children" off of Machina/The Machines of God. Additionally, Garson performed piano on the song "With Every Light" off of Machina/The Machines of God. Garson also played on Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile, as well as with No Doubt, Perry Farrell [5], St. Vincent[6], and many others. Garson collaborated with Trent Reznor again on for the Grammy nominated score to the Gone Girl film on which they collaborated and Garson performed[7].

Mike Garson appeared on Myspace with his own music site, and to date has released some 50 free tracks. He is currently working on three new albums, as well as collaborating with several bands as touring player/session musician. His latest collaboration shows up on the last "met-on-Myspace" French artist Kuta's album A Home. Garson also contributed to and received co writing credit on the track "Something Unseen" by Athens, GA power pop band Chris McKay & the Critical Darlings. He has also been collaborating with the Norwegian band Sleepyard. In addition to this, he worked on the writing and recording of two songs on mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan's 2010 release, Option Paralysis.

In 2011, Garson contributed a remarkable piano solo to "Night Garden," a pop-psychedelic-Latin jazz song by singer-songwriter Johnny J. Blair. The track was issued on Blair's album I Like the Street [1], an album that drew comparisons to David Bowie, Roxy Music, and Velvet Underground.

Garson premiered a new commissioned work in 2014, written in collaboration with medical patients in partnership with brain surgeon Dr. Christopher Duma of the Foundation for Neuroscience, Stroke and Recovery. Mike’s work, a set of movements of original music compositions, titled “Symphonic Healing Suite” which will continue with the National Symphony in 2016 along with Garson’s latest solo album release. [8][9]

A comprehensive biography of his life and career to date was published in 2015, under the title Bowie's Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson, by Clifford Slapper.

Current work[edit]

Garson performed in the critically acclaimed global concert series Celebrating David Bowie from early 2017 through early 2018 [10] and headlined a tour of the UK in November 2017 with his Aladdin Sane tour.[11]. Mike and fellow David Bowie band alumni began touring in 2018 with their new show A Bowie Celebration: The David Bowie Alumni Tour.

Personal life[edit]

Garson married his wife, Susan on March 24, 1968. They have two daughters, Jennifer and Heather along with seven grandchildren. They live in Bell Canyon, California where Garson has his recording studio.[12]

Garson joined the Church of Scientology in 1970, having been introduced to it by Chick Corea.[13] While he played with Bowie he advocated Scientology to the other members of the Spiders from Mars, with Woodmansey converting as a result. Garson left the Church in 1982.[14]


With David Bowie


  1. ^ "Biography of jazz pianist who gained fame with Bowie". Fitzrovia News. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  2. ^ "MIKE GARSON ON BOWIE". The Mouth Magazine. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  3. ^ Garson, Mike (2008). "History and True Abandon". Artist Interviews (Interview). Interviewed by Maarten de Haan. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  4. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Mike Garson Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  5. ^ https://www.instagram.com/p/BWBCJWlFqCL/?taken-by=mikegarson. Retrieved 13 October 2017. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Pitchfork https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/10457-marry-me/. Retrieved 13 October 2017. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "Trent Reznor And Atticus Ross Find The Musicality In Noise With 'Gone Girl'".
  8. ^ Cavaness, Kyle (14 February 2014). "MIKE GARSON'S NEW SYMPHONY LITERALLY HEALS MIND, BODY AND SOUL". OC Weekly. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  9. ^ Lee, Greg (February 16, 2015). "PIANIST USES MUSIC TO HELP THOSE SUFFERING FROM BRAIN CONDITIONS". ABC 7 News. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  10. ^ Greene, Andy. "Inside the Ultimate David Bowie Tribute Tour". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  11. ^ Aladdin Sane Tour http://aladdinsanetour.com/. Retrieved 4 December 2017. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Hero: David Bowie - Lesley-Ann Jones - Google Books Retrieved 2016-12-09.
  13. ^ Boehm, Mike (March 1, 2014). "Pianist Mike Garson debuts 'Symphonic Suite for Healing'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  14. ^ Williams, John (November 11, 2016). "Chatting With Bowie". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2018.

External links[edit]