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Marcus Miller: The Perfect Balance

By Published: January 31, 2011
AAJ: Have you ever been asked for more straight-ahead and less "everything else"?

MM: No, nobody has ever really asked me that. A lot of times when we are on tour, on jazz festivals, we have these jam sessions. And I'll go in and I'll swing all night with those very musicians. I came up in New York, where I did all sorts of straight-ahead gigs. Anybody that was there at that time in New York knows that I play what I play by choice. I swing and I studied that music and I love that music, but I really feel that my voice is in the kind of music I play. But it doesn't mean I don't love that music. And I have done jam sessions from one o'clock in the morning until six, where I swung and held it down. I remember one time at the North Sea Jazz Festival, I looked behind me at the jam session, and there were a lot of horn players that were getting ready to sit in, everybody getting ready to give something, and we just held it down for the whole night.

So, I love that music and I swing from time to time in my music, but for me I just have to find the rhythm that I think is happening around me. When you hear my music 50 years from now, I want you to know when it was done. I want you to know what it was like to walk down the street in my lifetime. I want you to know what it was like to dance in my lifetime. I want you to know how people danced, how people moved. When I hear swing beat I know exactly how those people were dancing in 1940. When I see my aunts and uncles dance to swing music, I know that was the life rhythm of those times, and now it's more of an art form. Swinging is beautiful, and I swing all the time. If you come here to my music room, I'm swinging on my bass all day long. That's what I do, because it keeps you warm and active. But when I am doing my music, I want my music to be a snap shot of my era, just like Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
left a snap shot of his era.

I think that is music's first responsibility. I think its first responsibility is to reflect the time that it was created in. That should be all art responsibility. All art should reflect the time that it was created in. Not everybody agrees, and I understand that. I am not hating on anybody! Everybody should do what they feel. But I feel that that is my responsibility. So you are going to hear me swing from time to time, but you are going to hear more hip hop, more funk...You are going to hear the rhythm of today.

AAJ: You are all over the place, and you have done many different things. Is there anything you still haven't had a chance to try that you are still thinking "I need to get to that"?

MM: I don't really think in those terms anymore. I used to, but I don't anymore. I used to say "man, I hope one day I'll get to play with this person or that person." And the last person I felt like that about was with Herbie Hancock because I really wanted to work with him. But lately it is more about how meaningful I can make the music, no matter what I'm doing, who I am playing with; how I can make people feel deeply. So that is my goal now. I might try to do some acting later on, but only if something really cool came around.

AAJ: How do you see yourself?

MM: I don't know....I think I just try to keep things balanced. I think that is the word I always end up going back to. Between the funk and the jazz; between life and the studio, between harmony and rhythm; between improvisation and arrangement; between the music live and living my life at home. I think for me the most important thing is try to keep things balanced so that you can feel like a complete human being, and take advantage of everything that life has to offer.

AAJ: And how do you want others to see you?

MM: Oh, however it comes to their land. I'm trying. I just hope that the music makes them feel something. I have had people coming to me and saying "I know exactly what you were thinking when you did that song." And what they say is completely wrong; it's not what I was thinking at all. But I am happy that I do the kind of music where you can interpret it anyway that works for you, anyway that is meaningful for you, and not only with my music but with my whole life. I'd like for people to see me in any way that kind of moves them or affects them in a positive way. That's what I would like.

AAJ: What matters to you the most?

MM: Balance. Trying to have my music hit you on an emotional and intellectual and historical and a kind level at the same time. Trying to have my life balanced, where I can still be a musician, a creating musician dedicated to my art, but still be a good father, be a good husband. Not have one aspect of my life take over so hard that destroys all other aspects. I have seen many people do that, and some people would argue that if you have to do something profound, you have to have that thing take over and consume you, and forsake everything else, but for me, I have seen a couple of guys do it the other way. And it made me decide that that's the kind of person I want to be. So you will hear me doing some jazz, scoring movies, being a musical host at concerts and stuff like that; I just want to have it down so that I can enjoy everything that music has to offer and everything that life has to offer.

And then there is gratitude, one of the most important things. Gratitude to be here in this planet. For me personally gratitude to have a family that I love, to be able to do what I love when I am making music. To see daylight today. I think everyday should start with gratitude and then go from there.

Selected Discography

Marcus Miller, A Night in Monte Carlo (Concord, 2011)

S.M.V., Thunder (Heads Up, 2008)

Marcus Miller, Marcus (Concord, 2007)

Marcus Miller, Silver Rain (Koch, 2005)

Luther Vandross, Dance With My Father (J-Records, 2003)

Marcus Miller, Suddenly (Rhino/Wea UK 2002)

Marcus Miller, M2 (Telarc, 2001)

Marcus Miller, Tales (Pra, 1995)

Marcus Miller, The Sun Don't Lie (Pra, 1993)

Luther Vandross, Power of Love (Sony, 1991)

Miles Davis, Tutu (Warner Bros., 1990)

Miles Davis, Amandla (Warner Bros., 1989)

Luther Vandross, Busy Body (Sony, 1983)

Photo Credits

Pages 1-3: Mike Stemberg

Page 4: Chuck Koton

Page 5: Ricard Cugat

Page 6: Hans Speekenbrink

Page 7: Roger Humbert

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