marcus miller on stage

Who is Marcus Miller?

There’s hardly a bass player in the world who hasn’t heard of Marcus Miller. From a hairy metalhead to a complete (in a good way) punk. Every bass player, once they’ve fledged, matured, and started playing beyond the fifth fret, learns about Marcus Miller in one way or another.

Marcus Miller is a great bass player, multi-instrumentalist, virtuoso, composer, arranger and producer, and film soundtrack writer. In addition he is a two-time Grammy Award winner as a performer, and multiple times as a composer and producer. In addition Marcus has won many other respected international awards.

Bass Magazine included Markus Miller in their list of “10 Most Recognizable and Influential Bassists of All Time”.

marcus miller with fender bass

Is there anything Marcus Miller can’t do?!

Scott Divine

In more than 40 years, he’s worked his way up from professional session bassist to modern jazz legend. And over the years he has played with many jazz and pop musicians. Here is just a small sampling:

  • Stevie Wonder.
  • Miles Davis.
  • Aretha Franklin.
  • Luther Vandross.
  • Eric Clapton.
  • Al Jarreau.
  • Paul Simon.
  • Whitney Houston.
  • Chaka Khan.
  • And even (God forbid) Jay Z.

Marcus Miller. The beginning of the creative journey

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1959, Marcus Miller grew up in the Rochdale section of Queens, a place predominantly populated by Jamaican immigrants.

Marcus Miller grew up in a musical family, his father playing the organ in a local church. At the age of 10 he began playing clarinet, then switched to saxophone and at 13 he switched to bass and played with local funk and r’n’b bands.

After high school, he enters the “High School for Music and the Arts in New York” where he masters the clarinet. Then he goes to Queens College of Music, but decides not to choose a particular instrument to specialise in. During his studies he developed his first serious contacts with his future colleagues, and at the age of 19 he first recorded in a studio as a bassist and wrote his first songs.

Looking at his cousin Denzel Miller, who was writing music for a local band, I realized: You’re never a complete musician until you write your own material.

Marcus Miller (Interview)

During those years a long collaboration with jazz musician David Sanborn began, a 25-year-long collaboration from 1975 to 2000. In those early years, incidentally, the famous composition Run for cover was written.

I was 18 or 19 years old and I remember having a four-track tape recorder… It was very hard to overestimate the importance and excitement that went over my head that I could create something of my own.

Marcus Miller. Interview
bassist marcus miller

Luther Vandross and Miles Davis. Grammy. Tutu

The next milestone in his career was the collaboration with singer Luther Vandross, where Marcus Miller showed his worth as a composer and producer. Over the years, millions of albums have been sold, and a Grammy was won for the best r’n’b song of 1981 “Never too much”.

The collaboration with Miles Davis, one of the most significant stages in the career of these two musicians, cannot be overlooked. At the time they started working together, let me remind you – Marcus was only 22!

Miles Davis was my musical father. I mean, my own style as a bass player really took shape when working with him on “One man with the horn” and my skills as a songwriter really took off when I worked on “Tutu”.

Marcus Miller. Interview.

In 2009 Markus Miller reimagined the legendary “Tutu” album and presented it at the famous concert in Lyon “Tutu Revisited”.

portrait of musician marcus miller

Fender Jazz Bass and other Markus Miller basses

Marcus Miller’s main instrument is the Fender custom shop Marcus Miller made especially for him. In a way, this bass is the only way to get as close as possible to Marcus Miller’s distinctive, signature, ringing sound.

A little bit about Marcus’ signature Fender:

  • Deck is ash.
  • Maple fingerboard.
  • Active.
  • Stock pickups.
  • Badass II die-cast bridge.
  • Integral preamp by Sadowsky himself developed with Marcus Miller especially for him.
  • Dual band equalizer.
  • Active/passive switch.
  • And, of course, the vintage chrome cover over the nexus sensor.

Why don’t I take the cover off? The thing is, because the cover is made of steel and there’s a special magnetic field inside the pickups… aaand…It doesn’t do anything!..
In fact, people of an older generation like me don’t really feel about things that way. We used to not touch what the designers came up with. If it’s there, it’s necessary for something.

Sire Marcus Miller

There’s already a fairly detailed article on the website about Sire bass guitars and their collaboration with Marcus Miller. I won’t repeat myself, but only point out that the collaboration wasn’t limited to allowing you to write your name on the head of the fingerboard. I very often see Miller using Sire bass guitars himself. Not only at NAMM and other promotional events, but also at concerts, in the most combat conditions!

  • Besides Fender Jazz Bass he also uses Fodera fretless bass, Sadowsky 4 and 5-string, Modulus and 5-string F-bass.
  • He also worked with Dunlop to develop the Marcus Miller Super Bright Bass Strings.
  • In collaboration with Marcus Miller, Mark Bass produce amplifiers and cabinets for bass guitars.

Conclusion

Marcus Miller is a truly unique musician. Even though slap does dominate his technique, cementing everything together, his music never fails to be melodic. It’s really strange, because slap is mostly percussion, groove and rhythm. That said, Marcus Miller’s music is easy to listen to, and you can almost always sing the tune, moreover, they often stick in your head for a long time. Not every bass player can do that.

Young bassists sometimes ask me: What should I concentrate on for the groove or the solo? I answer: who says you have to choose? You have to be able to do both…

Markus has found a unique balance, a happy medium in which the groove, the melody, and the unique musical taste meld together.

He’s also a hard worker. Awards and nominations, albums and endless artist and film listings… Add to that the frenetic rhythm of seventies New York where the young musician was forged in the jazz clubs. You can easily find Marcus Miller’s concerts online including his early recordings. Here’s a video of the concert where Miller is 21 years old !

My sound and style today is the result of my life in New York, when I played a concert, followed by another concert, and again, again, again… It was serious work. You came, you read the notes, you played, you left…

Marcus Miller has been at the top of the most sought-after and influential musicians for almost forty years. During this time he is constantly evolving and experimenting, with sound, instruments, and concept. Awesome solo album “Black Laid” was released on June 1, 2020, where Marcus again takes jazz and fusion to a new level. Blending the modern with the traditional in his own inimitable style, Miller is reaching out to new audiences, making it clear that he has no intention of losing relevance, stopping and resting on his laurels.

We are waiting for the new album, but now it’s time to listen to Blast, Power, Run for cover, Tutu…

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