In 2013, David Bowie wrote a song on his album The Next Day called “Valentine’s Day.” It was about a school shooting not unlike the one that happened February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. The coincidence is not lost on longtime Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson.
“It scared me to death,” Garson says. But also, it does not surprise him. “David was so advanced psychically and spiritually... his ability to recognize what reality was and not sugarcoat it was almost painfully true. He’s pointing out things maybe to wake us up a little bit, but sometimes they are on the more brutal side of life.”
Garson, who is above all a jazz pianist, made his first appearance on a Bowie recording in 1973 on the album Aladdin Sane. He remains best known and respected for the creepy, angular piano solo on the title track. Though not necessarily one of Bowie’s greatest hits, “Aladdin Sane” is a standout work among Bowie aficionados. Garson plays it regularly but with a twist. “I’m doing some different things with it, which you’ll see at the show. You’ll get a kick out of it,” he assures. “We have so much music by David — I have 38 pieces — we’re only able to squeeze in 22 or 23, so I rotate. We have ‘Quicksand,’ we have ‘Win,’ we have ‘Can You Hear Me?’ from Young Americans, we have ‘Panic in Detroit,’ ‘Diamond Dogs,’ ‘Changes,’ ‘Life on Mars,’ ‘Space Oddity,’ ‘Moonage Daydream,’ all of the hits. We’re doing ‘Disco King’; it opens the show.”
So, Garson says, fans should expect a mix of hits and deep cuts at the show March 14 at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse. Though the performance will likely last around two and a half hours, he says he would like to perform a six-hour show. “Picking the songs for the set is so hard because, if I had my way, I’d have about 85, and I would just play them for maybe three two-hour sets.”
Garson came up with the idea for this tour and is its musical director. However, he won't be the only Bowie alum onstage. There will also be guitarist Earl Slick, who joined Bowie’s touring band following the release of the singer’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Like Garson, Slick made recurring appearances on Bowie records all the way up through his 2010 releases. Slick’s son, Lee John Madeloni, plays the drums on this tour. Also in the band is bassist Carmine Rojas, who played with Bowie throughout the '80s and made his Bowie debut on the singer’s most famous album, Let’s Dance. Gerry Leonard played guitar on Bowie’s later and very respectable albums Heathen, Reality, and The Next Day.
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Fans will be treated to an array of voices, including Bernard Fowler, who has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Public Image Ltd to Herbie Hancock. There’s also 2017 Grammy-nominated singer/guitarist Gaby Moreno. Fort Lauderdale is in for a special treat: Joe Sumner, son of Sting, has joined the band for a guest stint on vocals for only a few tour stops.
No one is attempting to imitate Bowie’s incomparable voice. “I’m trying to get each singer to have their own voice and not imitate him like karaoke but bring their own thing," Garson says. "Like last year, at the Wilton in Los Angeles, Sting sat in. He did ‘Black Star’ and 'Lazarus.’”
Garson says he has been inspired by the love for the music he has seen while on tour. “They’re all emotional,” he says of the shows. “There’s not a show that I don't have tears somewhere, somehow, and watching the audience is where my joy comes from because they’re either crying or singing every word or smiling,” he adds before letting out a big laugh.