David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016) is best known for his iconic songs and as his role as a fashion trendsetter who influenced countless artists such as Madonna and many others. But when I think of Bowie, I think of him as a well-rounded musician who was open to trying just about anything. Who else but Bowie would combine rock, strings, and jazzy harmonies in a song about space travel? When I heard he had passed away, his lyric “Major Tom to ground control” immediately began playing in my “mind’s ear.” What a great and unique song!
It was Bowie’s musical well-roundedness that enabled him to pull of pretty much everything he attempted. Whether he was singing lounge rock, playing guitar with a hard-edged alternative rock band, crooning funky dance music with that beautiful baritone voice of his, or playing the sax, Bowie drew upon a solid musicianship at every step of the way, and a lot of this ability came from having a fluent ease at the piano. He moved effortlessly between musical genres because he saw the connections between them. He knew that the C chord he played on accordian while singing cabaret songs was the same C chord he strummed on distorted guitar. This musical understanding also enabled him to mix musical genres at will; he knew that the avant garde piano music he enjoyed listening to would sound wonderful with a steady rock beat behind it.
Bowie also enjoyed promoting and helping his friends. Check out this clip of him playing keyboards on The Dinah Shore Show which he did to help Iggy Pop get much-needed exposure. He sounds great! Bowie isn’t just playing “songwriter’s piano”; he’s a “real” piano player!
Mike Garson, who played the famous avant garde piano solo on the song “Aladdin Sane,” once recalled waiting offstage with Bowie before a small, intimate performance for British dignitaries. Bowie suddenly turned to Garson and asked him to go out first and play a set of solo jazz piano. Most stars would never dream of being so generous!
So while the rest of the world mourns David Bowie, “rock start and fashion icon,” I’ll be remembering a true musician who never let the pressures of fame limit his fertile musical imagination. Rock on!
If you want to take your rock, jazz, pop, or blues piano playing to a new level of fluency, you’ll enjoy my piano improv video course. I’ll also give you personal guidance and instruction along the way!