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Interviews

Marcus Miller: The Perfect Balance

By Published: January 31, 2011
AAJ: You taught yourself to play it?



MM: Exactly. I was like "I think there is something here." So I worked on it until I could get a melody out of it. Then I played it for Miles. "Listen to this." And he said "Hey man, you've found your instrument." And I was like "What do you mean, I found my instrument? My instrument is the bass guitar!" "You know what I mean," he said, and I did know what he meant, because I think he knew that I was looking for a sound that could best suit my personality. So with this encouragement I kinda stuck with it and it became my second instrument. So if I do a concert is nice to pull it out and give people a rest from the sound of my bass guitar, and give them a complete different color; and then when I go back to the bass guitar is nice too, because contrast is everything. You don't appreciate something sometimes until it goes away and then it comes back. So I really enjoy using it in that matter.

AAJ: What were you like in your early 20s, when You'd already gotten your feet wet and were playing with all these people?

MM: I think I am pretty much the same guy, I was always into music. It was so important to me, that when I first met musicians like George Benson
George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
, McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
or Grover Washington Jr., I never got nervous. I might have gotten nervous as I was walking to the studio, or to the show, but once the music started I hadn't time to be nervous, because the music was so important to me and it was so important to play it right, to make it sound good, that I didn't have time to be nervous. And to me it is still the same thing. The music is so important, and it is so important to get it right. To get the sound that I can hear in my head, and see if I can get people to emotionally feel what I am trying to put across. Everything else gets locked out. I have always been like that.

That is why I try to keep my enthusiasm for music, because the people that I met that I admire the most, they kept their enthusiasm through their whole lives. Miles did it, Herbie does, Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
... Do you know how you see some guys that they don't play that much anymore, and they are kind like icons, and there is these other guys that are just like "Let's play," and forget the icon and what critics say? Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder...they come and sit in on your set, and play things like Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
songs. That never-ending curiosity. It's an amazing thing. I got a lot of friends who are athletes, and when you hit 35 you are an old man, you have to transition to something else, you are an ex-athlete. But there are no ex-musicians. At 35 you are just getting warm, and you can discover things all the way through your life, and I think that is what is beautiful about music.

AAJ: What is your best memory of Miles, as a musician?

MM: As a musician, definitely working with him in the studio on albums like Tutu (Warner Bros., 1990) and Amandla (Warner Bros., 1989), and giving him directions, and telling him "Hey man, this is what I need you to do and this is how that one goes," and then he doesn't ask me any questions; and sometimes when he played, I wouldn't quite understand why he chose to play what he played because obviously when you have written a song and you arrange it, you have an idea of how he is going to play it. And sometimes he wouldn't do that, sometimes he would do something different and I'd ask, "why did you do that?" And those musical ideas that I questioned when he played them, all ended up being the things that I loved the most about what he did. It was just amazing to just stand there and hear a genius work and not be able to recognize that genius until I had some time to step away from it. And whenever I hear stuff we did together, and he didn't play what I thought he was going to play, now I am like "Wow, I was standing there when he did that!." And I didn't know how profound it was until later.

Miles was the guy that taught us all that you don't have to play everything. What you do, you choose the most effective notes, and not every musician can do that, because a lot of musicians have great technique, great tone, great musical knowledge, and they can hit you with a whole lot of stuff; but it takes somebody with an exquisite taste to decide which of those I am going to use in this particular situation. And Miles would sit there and leave a big space, and the bigger the space you leave, the more profound what you play after that space is going to be. And you better find the right thing to play, because after leaving a big space like that, is like talking, and then pausing is on..."This is what I want to tell you..." When you pause, everybody is sitting on the edge of their seats going "what is he going to say?" And Miles taught us how important that is, how effective that is. If you leave a big space and then you play some trash at the end of that space you ruin everything. But if you leave a big space and then you play a perfect note, you won. Everybody is going to be emotionally involved, and it is going to be a successful moment.

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
. You don't ever hear him make a mistake. You don't ever hear Oscar Peterson "stuck" when he plays, you know what I mean? He was a virtuoso, and he brought almost a European kind of virtuosity to jazz that a lot of Europeans, and not only Europeans, really appreciate. So if you are loving Oscar Peterson and then you listen to a Miles record, and Miles goes for a C natural and it doesn't quite come out, it's a different thing.

But if you go to a Miles concert, I think Miles in my opinion drew more emotion out of the listener than Oscar Peterson ever did. With Peterson, you had to let go, you couldn't be really involved because he was so good, he's the greatest. With Miles, sometimes you felt like you had to help Miles; sometimes you felt like you had to emotionally join him so that he could get through the notes, because you never knew when he was going to mess up. And that had a special effect that I don't think that everybody understands. It takes a unique personality to be the kind of musician that listeners want to help. There is a vulnerability that he had on his playing, that it makes you want to join him, and I think that music that makes people want to join in and participate is a different kind of music, it's a more special music, and it's going to reach a wider audience.


This was the complete sound. And I said "Man, this is going to be something I am going to hear for the rest of my life; you better play for the good!" And Luther must have thought the same thing, because when we got towards the end, he was going "Keep it like that, keep it like that," singing. Even the jazz musicians and the rhythm section started trying to change stuff; and he was like "This sounds good. Marcus, don't mess this up!" [laughs]. And we kept it right there, too. The song is probably about eight minutes long, and it is eight minutes of beauty. And I really remember that clearly.


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