Ole Witthøft

The two minutes that defined his life

Mike was actually a jazz pianist. Played in dark bars. And despite his young age, recognised in all the right circles for his elegant and surprising style.


But he needed a break. Needed to get away from New York's heroin-heavy jazz scene.
Just for a while.
He was tipped off about an audition. A musician friend who knew a singer who needed a new man behind the keys for his new record.


A rock record. Mike didn't know him and wasn't interested in rock.


But he showed up - without really wanting to. Got called in, handed a page of sheet music.
He managed to play for six or seven seconds before the guitarist and bandleader interrupted him.
"You're the one we need."


Immediately the recordings were underway. The singer, David, wanted a solo for one of the tracks. He pointed to Mike.
"Play a solo on this."


Mike tried a solo based on a blues round.
"No, that's not how I want it."


Mike embarked on a more Latin-inspired attempt.
David interrupted him again: "No, not like that either. They say you can play avant-garde. Try it."
A breath that stretches all the way down. Fingers resting calmly on the keys.


Mike cleared his head and let the bass and guitar lead the way, then played whatever came to mind.


Let himself be seduced by thoughts that happened to cross his mind.
Thoughts that tore him away from any kind of schooling and out into the open spaces where anything is possible, where no man rules.


Where the wind snarls, the hail whips, and the wolves attack.


They follow him up and down the keyboard, all the while holding on to the basic patterns of the melody.
Chaos flared up around him, his fingers working more and more intensely. But then the guitar drops out, Mike relaxes, the track fades and ends. Silence.
This third attempt at the solo was also the last. It was promptly put on the album. Recorded in one go.
The recording took place in the winter of 1973, but the 2 minutes or so where Mike improvised a solo out of his fingers, mostly for fun, have haunted him ever since.


Those 2 minutes became defining for his career. The record became a huge hit, and Mike's career never looked back from there.
"Since then, I've had to deal more with that one solo than with the 11 records I've made, the six I've released with another group, the hundreds of other artists' tracks I've played on, and the thousands of pieces of music I've written to date," he said many years later.


Still, not a week goes by without someone asking Mike to tell the story behind that solo.


He gets emails almost daily from fans and curious people who want to know what was going on in his head during those two minutes.
And in every interview he has given, the solo from 'Aladdin Sane' is one of the first things the journalist asks about.
Mike Garson himself passes on a significant part of the praise. To the singer.
"He was the one who pulled it out of me.


It was neither my first nor second choice to play the solo that way. But he insisted that it should be different.


So it's largely David Bowie's doing."


Listen to the track here


It is incredibly difficult for a speaker to reproduce the sound of a grand piano in a convincing way.


The sound of the magnificent instrument is often too dark, too thin, too stuffy or wrong in other ways.


That's why we use the sound of large grand pianos to assess the quality of our speakers.
All in honour of those magical moments.
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Ole Witthøft
Ole is the founder of System Audio. His 3 greatest passions are music, design and technology. Every day, Ole is working on some kind of projects, and you find him in the workshop, in the production, behind a computer or on one of his many presentations around the world.

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