“Celebrating David Bowie”: Carrying on the Legacy of the Man & His Music @ The Egg
By Scooter Isaac
Photographs by Tom Dellinger, Jamie Trumper, Jason Dorfman
After David Bowie’s passing in 2016, there were innumerable tributes from around the world. Whether from celebrities or common fans, it was clear that the Thin White Duke meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
For Mike Garson, he was the catalyst for a career as a sideman that’s lasted nearly 50 years and took off when Bowie plucked him from avant garde performer Annette Peacock for the Aladdin Sane recording sessions and tour. “He was my equivalent of Miles (Davis); he was a perfect casting director and producer,” Garson marveled. “He made it easy for his musicians. That’s who he wanted (to play with) and he let them do their thing.”
Garson joined Bowie on the ’72 Spiders from Mars tour, playing piano on about half the set and observing the rest of the show from off-stage. It became clear to him that he signed up for more than just “a nice change.”
“I thought, ‘Oh shit, this guy’s a genius,’” he recalled. And that genius carried over from the stage and into the studio, where Bowie coaxed out what Garson considers his personal finest work – the legendary outro solo on the song “Aladdin Sane.”
“No singer has ever given me that much space. He pulled that solo out of me,” Garson said, adding that he came up with it by asking himself what Bowie would play, if he had jazz playing experience. “It’s one of many sessions I had done, but it’s the greatest success of my career.”
Garson was a part of Bowie’s band up through Young Americans, continuing his career as an accomplished pianist that collaborated with the likes of Stan Getz. He rejoined Bowie in 1993 and played with him on every subsequent tour and final live appearances in 2005 and 2006.
Bowie and Garson remained in contact through the final years of Bowie’s life, cooking up ideas like a pair of sequels to 1994’s Outside and a Broadway show, where Bowie would perform one song from each of his 26 albums. None of these plans came to fruition, but Garson is keeping Bowie’s musical legacy alive in a different way.
In early 2016, Garson participated in a four-hour tribute show at the Roxy that featured former Bowie sidemen and celebrity fans. The show was such a success it turned into a seven-nation tour called “Celebrating David Bowie,” and featured Bowie alumni and occasional guest spots from singers like Sting, Seal, the Cult’s Ian Astbury and Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale.
This month and next, “Celebrating David Bowie” is hitting up the U.S. for a tour that includes a stop at The Egg’s Hart Theatre on Tuesday (February 13). Bowie vets Earl Slick, Carmine Rojas and Gerry Leonard will be joining Garson, who also serves as the musical director and emcee for the evening. In addition, 2017 Grammy nominee Gaby Moreno, Rolling Stones’ backing vocalist Bernard Fowler, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore and Living Colour’s Corey Glover will handle vocals.
For Garson, this type of show doesn’t make up for Bowie’s absence, but it’s a great way to show appreciation for the man and his music. “I still have a lot of regrets, incomplete dreams, but this homage to him is the best I can do,” Garson said. “This show is the next best thing to do without him. And the amount of applause is the same, the feeling (playing the songs) is the same.
“Right now, I’m very happy with this particular touring outfit,” he continued. “Gaby really took on the being, the joy of David.”
Of all the vocalists in the line-up, Gaby Moreno is the one Garson is most connected to. Moreno has taken part in every “Celebrating” show and joined Garson in London last year for a performance of Aladdin Sane in its entirety.
Moreno, a well-regarded Guatemalan folk-pop singer-songwriter, is best known to American audiences as the writer and performer of the theme to “Parks and Recreation.” For her, these shows are an opportunity to have some fun singing the songs of an artist she admired.
“I kind of got sucked into this world. I never got to meet David Bowie. I never got to see him live,” Moreno said. “I love Aladdin Sane, the early stuff, even his first record, Hunky Dory, I love what he did on Reality. He was such a chameleon.
“Í love to embody these songs and get into character. It’s like acting,” she continued, noting that she likes to consider her role in this show as an interpreter in the vein of Frank Sinatra or Nina Simone. “I don’t have to have my guitar, it’s fun for me to put that aside. I have so much fun singing these songs. That’s my reward. It’s been great; all of us are there to celebrate his music, and that energy. I’m just really grateful.”
Moreno isn’t the only one who feels grateful.
“God knows how I got involved, a jazz musician playing piano in my house, hoping to play for five people. But David said, ‘That guy has something special,’” Garson said. “There’s just something about that man, David Bowie.”
WHAT: “Celebrating David Bowie”
WHO: Mike Garson, Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard, Carmine Rojas, Bernard Fowler, Gaby Moreno, Angelo Moore and special guests
WHERE: The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Albany
WHEN: Tuesday (February 13), 8pm
HOW MUCH: $39.50, $49.50 & $59.50