Marcus Miller: Jazz Legend

No jumping the shark here, but I have a deep and dark confession to make and felt I needed to do this to clear my conscience.  You see, for decades I earned my living as a DJ, and I thought I was good at it, until a few weeks ago.  That’s when I ran into this gentleman.  I had never even heard of Marcus Miller before I stumbled on these videos and I find that almost unforgivable.

Marcus was born in Brooklyn in 1959 and has been playing jazz professionally since he was 15.  He has been featured on over 500 albums by such artists as Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Bill Withers, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Grover Washington Jr. Donald Fagen, LL Cool J, Dr. John, Mariah Carey, Herbie Hancock, and Chaka Khan.  He was also a member of the eighties band Scritti Politti, and in 1997 shared the spotlight with Eric Clapton, and Joe Sample on an 11 stop tour of jazz festivals.

As a composer, Marcus wrote “Tutu” for Miles Davis, a piece that defined Davis’s career in the late 1980s, and the title track of a Davis’ album for which Marcus wrote all the songs with only two exceptions, one of which was co-written with Davis.  He also wrote “Da Butt”, which was featured in Spike Lee’s film School Daze.

Marcus uses a custom built bass with a built in preamp and a maple neck in order to hollow out the sound.  Miller has also pioneered the “slappin’” style of playing, and has taken the fretless bass into areas of jazz that it has never gone before.

Marcus Miller, Lee Ritenour ~ The Panther

…and to complete my penance;

There are lot’s of versions of this one but none of them sound quite right without his drummer Poogie Bell.  In fact, you can tell when Poogie is there before he even makes a sound by the way Marcus begins.  It’s almost as if they grew up on the same block together and I would be remiss if I left Poogie out completely.

Bell was born in 1961 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a jazz pianist and the band leader for the Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet. As an infant, Poogie regularly watched his father’s band rehearse. He made his concert debut with his father’s band at age two and a half, playing at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh.  In 1966 he performed with Pearl Bailey on the Mike Douglas Show.  His list of co-workers is equally as impressive as is Marcus Miller’s.  Indeed, Poogie has been with Marcus for eleven of his albums

Marcus Miller, Poogie Bell ~ Run For Cover

On Sunday, the 25th of November, 2012, Marcus’ tour bus crashed in Switzerland, en route to Monte Carlo. The driver was killed, but Miller, ten members of his band, and another driver sustained no life-threatening injuries.

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  • echar

    I recognised Marcus Miller right away from the first video you shared. I hadn’t listened to his music ’til then. Now I gotta have it.

    Anyhow this is where I recognise him from. He talks around the 1:39:00 mark, in this Miles Davis documentary.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CRdLSLy5Jg

    • Ittabena

      Odd that you would mention Miles. I am also a big fan of Chris Botti from Memphis He is also Sting’s horn player and his biggest influence is Miles.

      Whenever Chris plays there is a long list of guest stars, and usually Sting is one of them, who Chris credits for much of his success.

      One reason I went into attack mode when Luke Rude-kowski ambushed him. To me it was a case of pick on a bad guy, not a good guy.

      • echar

        I’ll have to check out Chris Botti.

        The first thing that pinged on my BS meter with Luke, was the video of him being confronted about fraud. It had nothing to do with them accusing him, and everything to do with how he acted towards them. He clearly did not like a taste of his own medicine. He says in the video… “your embarassing yourselfs” Incidently Iwas thinking, what an embarassingment this dude is. Clearly an arrogant prick.

        Anyhow, I am listening to Chris Bottin now, and I like it. I can hear the Miles Davis influence. I’ll have to look for some. As an aside, about a year back I listened to Everything Ihave of Miles Davis from beginning to end. Which is almost every album. It took about a week, and I felt like I was in an alternate universe.

        Every so often I would listen to a shared youtube video, and it was like a rude awakening. I remember disliking his later material. The early to the 70s, for me. Mostly the 70′s spaced out fusion stuff though.

        • Ittabena

          Look for Chris Botti in Boston on kat dot ph – yes that’s the whole URL. Boston Pops, Sting (and Trudy!), Yo Yo Ma, Stephen Tyler just to name a few, and as always the band is awesome all by itself. Great show.

          They have a bunch of Marcus Miller’s stuff too. But don’t forget the Peer Block first, it’s free, and invaluable.

          The only trouble I see with Marcus’ cds are that you are left wishing you could see it too.

          • echar

            Oh yes, I am good to go. I am listening to first wish right now, more to go.

          • echar

            Oh yes, I am good to go. I am listening to first wish right now, more to go.

          • echar

            Do you know Here Comes the Mummies? They are less serious, but still great.

            http://youtu.be/Anc74Hu45Bg

  • Apathesis

    Marcus is bad a mother on the bass. He laid down some heavy funk on some killer Tom Browne and Bernard Wright joints.

  • Dennis Parrott

    I don’t get it… Why does Marcus Miller’s bass playing make you doubt your skills as a DJ? Marcus isn’t a DJ as well is he?

    To be an orange and then be bummed because you are not a banana is sort of silly. Just be as great an orange as you can be and admire the monster banana…

    • Ittabena

      I had to come up with some sort of rationale for posting it. Obviously I had to take the long way around the barn. Let’s call it literary license?

      But in truth, someone this good should have been familiar to me long ago. I mean I even used to listen and play the Scritti Politti song.

      • The Well Dressed Man

        Ah, I was wondering what kind of DJ techniques warranted the comparison! Thanks for the links! A music professor once made the audacious claim that “Jazz is America’s single greatest cultural contribution to the world.” I think he may have been correct.

        • Ittabena

          Yeah, I even lived on Hwy 61 before I moved to WA, just down the street from the Hollywood Cafe. To me being a DJ was ALL about knowledge of the medium.

          • Matt Staggs

            HWY 61 in Miss’sippy? You ever come back here? Shout at me if you do and I’ll buy you a beverage…

          • Ittabena

            No s**t? Do you know the Tunica Cutoff? How about Westy’s in Memphis?

            When I worked as a bartender at the Marriott downtown Memphis, a vice-editor from Maxim came in and we got to talking. I told him my idea for an HBO series based on the strip clubs, and another on the Cutoff. He said to get a hold of him and gave me his card, but he never seemed to be there when I called.

            It would have been a Southern version of “The Trailer Park Boys” but with more “characters”

  • Dennis Parrott

    I don’t get it… Why does Marcus Miller’s bass playing make you doubt your skills as a DJ? Marcus isn’t a DJ as well is he?

    To be an orange and then be bummed because you are not a banana is sort of silly. Just be as great an orange as you can be and admire the monster banana…

  • Great_Ape

    Umm…as great as Marcus is, he wasn’t the pioneer of slap bass. That was Larry Graham.

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