Michael David Garson (born July 29, 1945) is an American pianist, who has worked, among others, with David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Corgan, Free Flight, and The Smashing Pumpkins.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Ferrell , St. Vincent, 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.
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. He has also worked on several projects with the photographer Alex Boyd, including scoring the soundtrack to the short film Die Hasenjagd.
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 , 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.
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.
Garson led a massive concert series of fellow David Bowie band alumni and special guests with the Celebrating David Bowie tour in early 2017 and will continue the tour in Europe and North America in 2018. He will also tour the UK in November 2017 with his Aladdin Sane tour.
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 Mike has his recording studio.