The unlikely trio of long-time David Bowie pianist, Mike Garson, classical vocalist Harolyn Blackwell and Grammy nominated jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon will perform with a double quartet, a single jazz quartet and a string quartet in “Dreaming the Duke” at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 5.
In a first-of-its-kind production, Garson serves as the arranger, accompanist and musical director for this concert. He is known for his many years with David Bowie and other rock performers such as Nine Inch Nails, Seal and No Doubt. He performs on Bowie’s CD’s, “Reality,” “Earthling,” “Outside,” “The Buddha of Suburbia,” “Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture,” and many others. Bowie says, “It is pointless to talk about Mike’s ability as a pianist; he is exceptional. However, there are very, very few musicians, let alone pianists who naturally understand the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl themselves into experimental or traditional areas of music, sometimes, ironically, at the same time. Mike does this with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart glad just to be in the same room with him.”
Garson also has broad experience in the jazz and classical music worlds and was a member of Free Flight featuring renowned flutist, Jim Walker. They appeared four times on the Tonight Show and performed a concerto with the L.A. Philharmonic.
We asked Mike a few pointed questions about his background and “Dreaming the Duke.”
Q. You have quite a varied musical background from classical and jazz to rock. Is it difficult to cross over genres or is it possible to combine them into one distinctive sound?
A. It can be very difficult if one is new to crossing over but I have been creating music that way since the mid ‘60’s, so I find it very homogenous and seamless and don’t even recognize the shifts when they occur as it’s part of my musical sensibilities.
Q. With many disciplines at your disposal, how do you decide where to focus at any given time or is that dictated by the venue or organization you’re performing for?
A. That one can be tricky as the change over from each project is where I have some brain freezes. However, once I locate the coordinates of the new project it becomes effortless and joyous.
Q. What attracted you to the “Dreaming the Duke” project?
A. The opportunity to work with Nnenna and Harolyn as well as the challenge of incorporating some of my own introductions, interludes and arrangements that were unique to me and yet respectful of Duke. A great project, in fact, and I’m heading towards a similar concept with Gershwin music.
Q. This is an extremely unique configuration—opera, jazz, classical and chamber. It fits very nicely into the Tanglewood paradigm. Have you performed at Tanglewood before?
A. This will be my first time and just to be in that space where many heroes of mine have performed, including Leonard Bernstein, will just make the music flow even better. That space has millions of notes to choose from and I like finding those notes in the improvised sections of the music.
“Dreaming the Duke” will be presented at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival Saturday, September 5, at 8 pm. For more information go to tanglewoodjazzfestival.org or call SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200.