Musical conversation with Marcus Miller
Louder Than War’s Sophie Luchinsky experiences a “musical conversation” with American jazz composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller who, amongst others, has worked with such luminaries as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and saxophonist David Sanborn – as well as maintaining a successful solo career.
Originating at the beginning of the 20th century in the African-American communities of the Southern States, Jazz as music genre was based on blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note. Though jazz is considered difficult to define, the main qualities of it are swing, improvising, group interaction, developing an ‘individual voice’ and being open to different musical possibilities. As Duke Ellington defined it: “It’s all music.” So improvisation is one of jazz’s key elements, something Marcus Miller calls “musical conversation”.
With his Renaissance album Marcus Miller, touring all over the world, performed at GG Jazz II Russian jazz festival.
Being one of the worlds most respected and accomplished players from the mid 70s to the present, Miller is a highly proficient keyboardist, clarinetist, bass clarinetist and a world-renowned electric bassist. He is also known as a sideman on albums across different music styles (he collaborated with Donald Fagen and Eric Clapton, George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Sample, Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington, Jr., Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Jay-Z, Z.Z. Hill and others). A two-time Grammy-winner, he is a composer and producer of seven studio album and three live.
His first Grammy he won was in 1991. He also won R&S “Song of the Year for Power of Love / Love Power which he collaborated on with definitive late soul musician Luther Vandross.
After The Sun Don’t Lie (1993) and Tales (1995), Miller released M2 (‘M-Squared’) and won his second Grammy, 2001s Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
Since Tutu Revisited project in 2009 to trio DMS, a funk-jazz collaboration with George Duke and David Sanborn in 2011 and ‘Tribute to Miles’ tour in 2012 with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Miller went back to compose new music and with his Renaissance he went to travel around the world with his mission to take his ‘music’ message to people.
Before concert of the main stage, Marcus went to music school. He started with great bass riffs with his fretless bass technique, an inspiration to many, and he has taken the fretless bass into musical contexts and genres previously unexplored, Miller began to talk to audience.
“For me everything is important, balance, spirit. Spirit is 4th element. You have to put some energy, some path, it starts with the rhythm.” – he explained to kids while playing music at the same time.
“I play harmony and rhythm. It’s very important for musicians to listen. These guys are very good listeners” – he mentioned talking about his band. “When it’s time for us to have musical conversation – it’s like words, so we are talking to each other”, Miller told while playing his Fender Jazz Bass with black pick guard / control plate with accompaniment of his drummer and piano player.
“I met Miles Davis when I was 21 years old. He was very famous and had many musical projects. He was 35 years older than me. I was playing with a master. When he retired I started working with him. It was an incredible experience.” – Marcus tells. “I was his bass player for two years. I was learning by watching him because Davis didn’t talk much. Later we talked a lot.”
Miller was the last person who collaborated with jazz legend Miles Davis, contributing the composition and album ‘Tutu’ to the canon of contemporary jazz music as producer, writer and player.
“Technique, great imagination, rhythm – all three are important. First thing – to listen to everything. Find what you like. Figure out who you are as a person and a musician. When improvise is to play what you feel.”
“Harmony, scales, improvisation – to develop my imagination.” Marcus Miller shows the way to play his bass – shows how to play rhythm. “ That’s the rhythm”. Explaining that the imagination is Marcus Miller sings, sounds and plays the same on his bass.”
“I try to get everything and put into the music.”
‘My father plays piano, his father played piano. I started with piano. Then I listened to Michael Jackson. Jackson 5. They didn’t have bass. So I wanted to play bass. I loved soul, funk. Soul, funk, r ’n’ b – all that I like’.
Marcus was born in 1959 and raised in a musical family. At the age of 13 Marcus was proficient on clarinet, piano and bass guitar and was already writing songs.
“I try to keep it balanced. I play music from my mind, but add soul into it. All musicians have their personal sound. When I was a teenager I was listening to recordings all the time. The most beautiful experience was George Benson. Wayne Shorter’s live performances sound is the same as recordings.”
Later on at the concert Miller seemed to really enjoy his band’s performance. With a lyrical sax part and great funky drums providing rhythm Miller showed proficient bass playing at the same time. After Detroit they went on playing Redemption Song – (“It’s about how we’re all making mistakes” – Marcus explained) – with the addition of a melancholy saxophone and with a trumpet and piano in the background. It was what you could call “smooth jazz”.
“Next song has two parts, two personalities” – Miller said. “First is a cool part, second – crazy part”.
The song starts with a bass line then becoming faster with cool jive.
Then Marcus suddenly turned sad. “I’m going to tell you the story.” – he began. “I will tell you the story about the next song. It was at a concert in Senegal. The Jazz festival. Before the gig we had a trip around the island. There was a museum of an African slave house. They captured people to test then to use them for a trip across the ocean. There were three rooms there – one for men, one for women and one for kids – under each other. There was a door there – you could see nothing expect the ocean from it. They sent them to slavery across the ocean from this “the door of no return”. Going through that door ended their lives. This piece of music is about this. That doorway that started the Afro-American experience. This music is about pain. And about turning difficult situations to positive.”
The song started with a beautiful piano sound, then smooth sax sound was added. While the trumpeter played, Marcus was dancing. And after it was an amazing bass riff by the living legends Marcus Miller.
Playing not only for himself, but for other people made Marcus not only one of the best and most brilliant jazz musicians, but also made him a wise any more intelligent person who travels around the world to share splendid music with people.
All words by Sophie Luchinsky. This is Sophie’s first piece of writing for Louder Than War.