Hey, Look! It's Michael Garin!
In an attempt to behave less like an irresponsible drunk adolescent and more like a responsible drunk adult, I’ve been following some of my favorite performers to new and immersive venues, my favorite being the Django. The performers I followed there were the incomparable Brian Newman Quintet, and I know anyone they choose to relinquish their stage to will be fantastic in their own right. That brings me to Michael Garin, who can often be found playing piano and singing between the quintet’s sets in places like The Django and the esteemed Rainbow Room, and performing his own shows in a multitude of quintessential New York venues such as the Metropolitan Room, The Monkey Bar, and the VIP Room at Limelight. However, singing and playing are not all he does.
Michael Garin was born in a small planned community in Maryland, not far from Washington DC, which he says did not prepare him for New York at all (in a good way!). After going to college for two years in Boston, he realized that he knew exactly what he wanted to do; he wanted to be in the arts and to entertain, and he did not need a degree to accomplish that. He came from growing up in a place with virtually no live music, to living in a city that is always swimming in it. Although before making that daunting transition, he made a trial run to New York just for a couple of months to go on auditions and ended up getting callbacks. This made the trip successful already, as his primary goal was to become an actor. Now that this dream was solidified and proven to be attainable, he went back to Maryland and got a job at his local appliance store selling vacuum cleaners. “Little did I know that that would train me as an actor better than anything else I ever did.” Once back in New York for good, he went to The Neighborhood Playhouse for his formal training. From there, his job search consisted of walking up 1st avenue, from 42nd to 79th, then turning around and walking down 2nd, stopping in every single bar or restaurant to ask if they needed a piano player. At 2nd and 72nd, he got a job that had the perks of free food and drink, all while simultaneously being in a play on the LES. It was the best of both worlds; acting and playing music, a gritty, artistic environment along with a ritzy environment that could pay the rent.
This balance would serve as the unofficial format for the rest of Michael Garin’s career. “If I can’t get a job as an actor, I can go to the music thing and do something. If I can’t get a job as a musician, I can do something where my acting talents come into play. At the end of the day, it’s performing.” However, playing piano for a room of well-to-do patrons is not all he’s doing. “When people say ‘So you play piano and sing in bars?’ I go no, that’s not what I do. I read rooms. I happen to use the piano and my singing and entertaining as a means to create an experience and event for the people that are there.” He looks around the room, does some “market research,” and plays whatever song will most positively affect the room as it is in that moment. When I saw him at the Django, his challenge was not to compete with the big band vibe of the Brian Newman Quintet, but to complement it in a way that gives the audience something different while still holding their interest. At the Rainbow Room, he has a bit of a different task because it’s much more of a dancing environment, so his goal is to know what will get people up and dancing, but also to know when everyone needs a break and how to transition to that in a way that will keep the energy up. It’s a very calculating skill, and one that, in my opinion, is missing from up and coming artists in New York today.
Michael Garin is not always a solo act though. His name on the marquee will often be joined by the name Mardie Millit, Garin’s wife and performance partner. Her resume boasts regular appearances at Elaine’s, the Monkey Bar, Birdland, and the Metropolitan Room, all of which she has performed at with and without Garin. When I asked how they complement each other, Garin said, “We don’t. We insult each other,” which seems to be exactly the kind of humor that sparked their relationship. They met at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland, where she famously said during his performance, “That guy’s a horse’s ass, I think I love him a little!” After that, she would go to his gigs at the Monkey Bar and heckle him, which is what started their professional relationship, and their romantic relationship blossomed from there. When they got married, they were featured in the vows column of the New York Times, about which Mardie said “If I can get one woman to throw the newspaper across the room in anger, that’s great.” Back to how they complement each other, the serious answer was that where Mardie is classically trained and from a more polished background, Michael is more blunt and rough around the edges. “If I didn’t put my napkin on my lap when we first got to the restaurant, I’d hear about it, and I barge into rooms and demand stuff. She softens my rougher edges, and I kind of coaxed her out of the norm.”
To fully understand the comedic and musical talent of Michael Garin, I highly recommend venturing out to one of his many shows, where you can eat and drink and be thoroughly entertained. He is absolutely one of a kind, very capable of making beautiful music catered to the audience’s tastes and with a sense of humor that will keep you laughing in between songs. I have yet to see Mardie and Michael performing together, but it is definitely next on my to-do list considering her rave reviews and the fact that she shines even with such a big personality as Michael’s sharing the stage with her. Michael Garin has thrived in New York for the last 40 years, and will continue to do so as long as people love live music and memorable nights out.
“One of the things I measured growing up was how miserable people are when they don’t do what they want to do with their lives, and how that exacts a price. Of all the mistakes I’m going to make, that’s not going to be one of them.”
You can catch Michael Garin Wednesdays at 8pm at Hudson Malone (218 E 53rd St)
Michael and Mardie Thursdays at 7pm at Chéri in Harlem (231 Malcolm X Blvd)
And you can buy their album at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hey-look!-its-michael-mardie!/id980119038