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Marcus Miller: The Perfect Balance

By Published: January 31, 2011
AAJ: A song she sometimes couldn't even bring herself to sing if she was not having a good day, because of its raw darkness. It was painful.

MM: Exactly. It's really hard to play some of those tunes. You really have to hold it together, and it's not easy.

Marcus Miller with Alex Han and Christian Scott.

AA: Very nice work, on your part, for The Imagine Project, with that song with Juanes, "La Tierra."

MM: Yeah, I really liked it, too. Juanes had his musicians, and we had such a nice time that day. Herbie is the man. He is not afraid.

AAJ: Back to your new album, why the choice of Raúl Midón and Roy Hargrove?

MM: I had met Raúl Midón before, and I was very impressed, because he is just standing there with his guitar and it sounds like a whole orchestra by himself. He plays the guitar and somehow plays percussion at the same time; so you hear drums and guitar and then he is singing, and he can create the sound of a trumpet with his voice, and it's just amazing. And he is blind, so I just can't even imagine how you even begin to figure things out like that. He is just tremendously talented. So we promised each other that we would find a way to work together, so when this concert was suggested to me, and I was told to think of some guest artists I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to work with Raúl, and actually introduce him to people that aren't familiar with him yet.

With Roy it was a lot easier, because Roy and I have known each other for a long time, and I feel like we run into each other on tours all the time, and we see each other on jam sessions all the time, and I have always been impressed with his sound and his creativity. I think I always had it in the back of my mind to do something with Roy on an official level, and I thought this would be a great chance to work together.

AAJ: What was it that you enjoyed the most about the concert itself?

MM: I think what I enjoyed the most, right after we finished the show, was the look on everybody's face. The look on the audience's faces, and then when I went backstage, just as important or even more important, the look on the musician's faces. Everyone was high. It was beautiful. It was that high that musicians get when they step up there and they take a chance, and it is successful, and they feel they have done something that they are proud of and they are going to be proud of down the road. It was that kind of feeling. And I wish everybody in the world could experience that feeling that musicians feel when something like that happens, because I feel that is what keeps musicians hopeful, and excited about life and interested in life, because you never know when that feeling is going to come. There is always an opportunity. So I think that is what I enjoyed about this concert the most. Watching everybody's faces.

AAJ: Why the bass clarinet?

MM: My first instrument, besides the piano, because my father played piano, the first instrument that I took official lessons on was the clarinet. And I played clarinet since I was 10 years old and all the way through college. It was my official instrument that I got my musical education on. I went to the Arts High School in New York for musical arts, and then I major on music in college, and it was always the clarinet. The bass guitar at the time that I was coming up wasn't a really good fit in what I was doing, so I got my music education and I learned about harmony and composition and arranging through the clarinet. And when I became a professional musician after college, I put the clarinet away because I realized that my true calling was the bass guitar, so I left the craft alone. But maybe five years later, when I was working for Miles [Davis] and playing music for him, I looked at a piece of music and I felt my fingers fingering, as if they were playing a clarinet, and I realized I always do that every time I see music. It's like my fingers are playing the clarinet in the air. So I realized that I missed the instrument, and I wondered how I could incorporate the clarinet on what I was doing. And I couldn't imagine the sound of the clarinet.

I said to myself "Maybe the bass clarinet," because Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
1928 - 1964
had played it incredibly it in the sixties, and Bennie Maupin
Bennie Maupin
Bennie Maupin
played it for Herbie [Hancock] in the '70s. He played it for Miles' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969) album, and then for Herbie. So I thought "Maybe that instrument." What appealed to me about it was that it was much deeper than a regular clarinet. Very brown, very wooden sound, but had a really high range as well. It could go high and low, kinda like a man's voice, from the deep bass to the falsetto.

And I liked the fact that could play melodies, and I liked the fact that it was such a different sound form my bass guitar, a very hard, metallic sound. I thought this could be a nice contrast. So I was saying at home that someday I was going to get myself a bass clarinet, and that Christmas there was a bass clarinet under my tree. My mom and my wife had found one and put it under my tree for me. So it was a very noisy, squawky Christmas, trying to figure out how to play it. It's not a very easy instrument to play.

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