Marcus Miller: The Perfect Balance
AAJ: "So What" under a new light...
MM: That song is probably one of the most well known tunes in jazz, and all jazz musicians have played the song. You hear it all the time. But when you go back and listen to the original, there is an introduction played by Bill Evans on piano and Paul Chambers accompanies him on the acoustic bass; the intro, nobody plays it! But when you go back to that original recording, as I was saying, you realize how important that intro was to the mood of the song, and the state of mind that the musicians played the song with. I have heard it a lot of times when the musicians are just using it to play the licks, and that's not really the atmosphere they created. It sounds more like John Coltrane's Impressions (Impulse!, 1963), which was based on "So What"; it was more up-tempo, it had more energy, a different feeling.
So when you play that intro, it really sets out the atmosphere and everything that you play from that point on is affected by that intro that you played. So I was really excited to not only play that intro, but also to orchestrate it for the orchestra, so that everybody could hear it and go "Okay, this really sounds familiar, but I don't know what it is," and then all of a sudden, here we come with what they all know, "Oh, that was an intro!"; and I really think that intro set up a really beautiful mood for the rest of it.
AAJ: And then you added in there DJ Logic, and it is like "what?"
MM: [laughs] I like complete music. If you go to a show of mine, I want you to express every emotion. I want you to laugh and cry and get up and dance and sit down and be quiet. And also in jazz, I want you to hear the history of jazz, and the history of music, particularly the African-American based music. So I love the idea of playing "So What" and having a song that was written in 1959, and put a beat on it that was more like 1991; and then have the orchestra play with this European sound, and all of a sudden a DJ comes out of nowhere, scratching on. But I didn't want it to sound like a collage, where people just took a bunch of colors and threw them in there; I wanted it to sound really natural. I wanted it to sound almost like it always should have been. I wanted it to sound organic. So I was really happy with the way it turned out. It was perfect.
AAJ: The addition of the always powerful "Strange Fruit" to the final record.
MM: After you work with the orchestra and it is all done, that sound doesn't leave your head. I really was happy with the sound and the rhythm section in the orchestra combined; I was really happy. So I am walking around and it's still kind of dancing in my head. Then my wife said, "Why didn't you do 'Strange Fruit'?" It was too late. That always happens. There's always some idea that you get after a project is over, and you think that if you get a chance to do it again maybe you'll do that. So I kinda gave up the idea. Then Herbie Hancock called me and he said he needed me to come to Miami to work with Juanes on The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock, 2010). So I went to Miami, and we were cutting that track, and during the lunch break I was sitting at the piano, and everyone else was leaving, and I was just playing the harmonies to this "Strange Fruit" arrangement that I had, and Herbie walked in, and I said "Oh, it's just an arrangement for "Strange Fruit,"" and he said "That's a bad tune!"
And I said, "Maybe one day I can get you to play on it." And he said "Yeah, just let me know!" So we finished that session and I flew back home, and that stayed in my head, and I'm going "You know what? Herbie might change his mind, so let me get him now." So Herbie flew back to LA and I called him and told him that I'd like to do the song now, and we did it, and we added it as a bonus cut on this album, and it's the first time I've ever had an album where that one extra idea is actually on the album as well. It's a really nice feeling.
AAJ: It's always been a powerful song.
MM: On my Tales (Pra, 1995) album, the concept was to have people that I respect to talk just before the song, and Bill Withers spoke before "Strange Fruit" and he said "Man, if there is one song I wish I'd written" and this is Bill Withers talking, who's written several American classicshe said, "If there's one song I wish I'd written it's "Strange Fruit." The imaginary of black bodies hanging from trees, and somebody called it strange fruit, is just so profound." The song is very powerful, and my memory of what Bill said is always there with the song. And so is Billie Holiday; she had to be so courageous to record that song in the 1940s, because everybody warned her not to do it. She was really successful with a song that is so dark and just so strong. She stuck to her guns and she did it. It's one of her most important pieces of work, so I am really glad I got to include it on this CD.