In crafting his latest release, The Bowie Variations, celebrated composer, pianist and session musician Mike Garson relied on the Yamaha Disklavier performance reproducing piano not only to unleash his creativity, but to singlehandedly compose and create works in ways previously unimaginable.
According to Garson, The Bowie Variations was the perfect vehicle for the Disklavier. “There was no studio or hall involved initially and no need to force creativity all at once,” says Garson, noting that he was able to spread out the recording over the period of a month and work on it at home at his own pace. Once the creative process was complete, Yamaha provided a duplicate Disklavier piano at Oxnard Performing Arts Centre, where famed recording engineer Professor Johnson expertly mic’d the piano and it then played itself for the next several hours. The CD is now available on Reference Recordings, an audiophile label that records the best classical and jazz artists of our times.
The record and playback function likewise enabled him to layer multiple piano parts. “It’s like having six hands,” he relates. “The Disklavier has really allowed me to record track over track, and let me completely abandon myself to the creative process. It was fun. I wasn’t pressured in any way and wrote or improvised when I felt it.”
In the 1980s, Garson became the first musician to ever use the Yamaha Disklavier, a traditional acoustic piano equipped with an integrated digital electronics system that enables the recording, playback and creation of complex multi-track arrangements. An early adopter of the instrument, Garson procured the first one on the market and still treasures it to this day. “The piano is so good that I never wanted to change it,” said Garson. “There really aren’t too many pianos out there that sound better than this one.”
Ever since he obtained the instrument, it quickly became Garson’s main compositional and improvisational tool. “Prior to that, all my music was written by hand,” he recalled. Since he began using the Disklavier in the late 1980s, Garson saw his productivity – as well as the complexity of his work – skyrocket. “Because of the Disklavier, I can play pieces that are much more involved now. Before, it was mostly pop and jazz tunes, which are less dense by nature, but now I can play sonatas, nocturnes and etudes, which are far more intricate and elaborate.” Garson even coined a label for the music he makes with his Disklavier. He calls it “now music” because it allows him to orchestrate what he feels “in the moment.”
Over the next few months, Garson plans on performing some of the music from his latest work live in concert, with some dates already set for Washington State and Indiana. He is also weighing the possibility of a Bowie Variations Volume 2. For piano enthusiasts, Garson’s sheet music from the CD is also available. “It’s rather difficult,” he warns, “but pianists can really have a ball. Just listen to the recording for the feel and then check out the notes.”
An acclaimed jazz pianist who began playing at the age of 12, Yamaha Artist Mike Garson now boasts nearly 4,000 original compositions to his name and an illustrious career spanning over 40 decades with David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins. Although his background is in classical jazz, he learned a great deal early on at the hands of music icons like Lennie Tristano, Hal Overton and Herbie Hancock, and developed the creative flair and improvisation skills that propelled him to stardom.
A signed copy of The Bowie Variations is available at www.mikegarson.com.