Marcus Miller: Musician/composer draws from rich history of working with legends


Marcus Miller has one of world’s most recognizable bass sounds, and he’s bringing that sound to the Dakota for a two-night stint on Sept 11-12.

At 53, his impressive musical résumé reads like a who’s who of some of the best talent in the world. We’re talking Luther Vandross, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Take 6, Kenny Garrett, and the list goes on and on. He continues to build on a rich recorded legacy of his own, which now includes a chart-topping new album entitled Renaissance on Concord Records.

The CD has 13 tracks and features special guests such as vocalist Gretchen Parlato, New Orleans vocalist/pianist Dr. John and Panamanian salsa star Rubén Blades. It also includes covers of hits by the Jackson Five, War, Janelle Monàe, and Ivan Lins.

Photo by Mathieu Zazzo courtesy of Concord Records

His 22 film scores, includes work on Boomerang starring Eddie Murphy, Good Hair with Chris Rock, Obsessed with Beyoncé, and E.U.’s hit single “Da Butt” (which he co-wrote and produced) for Spike Lee’s School Daze soundtrack.

MSR spoke with Miller (MM) during his rehearsal for a jazz concert celebrating peace at the Hollywood Bowl with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Carlos Santana. That concert took place on August 29.


MSR: Congrats on the release of your new album Renaissance. I’m enjoying it! By many accounts and by many people, Renaissance would be called a breakout album. It’s obvious, and it’s clear that this album was well-planned and produced, which leads me to ask: How do you feel about the final product?

MM: I’m so happy with it. What I set out to do is to make a clean album with a good band and good songs. And to go into the studio and play great. Then I like to stay out of the way when it comes to the production because I like to make huge productions, with a lot of guest stars and overdubs and stuff like that, but for this album I really didn’t want that.

I wanted it to simply be about these young musicians that I’ve been playing with over the last couple of years. And to present how we shine as a band. And present some cool compositions that I’ve been working on.

MSR: About your craftsmanship: In looking back on your career, it is evident that you have set the bar of your craft. You have had the pleasure of producing and working with some of the best talent ever. How has that helped you in creating your unique sound, one that can never be duplicated?

MM: When you work with different people, if you keep your eyes open you always end up taking something away. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing musicians, and from each of them I’ll take something. From Miles [Davis] I learned you gotta figure out who you are — you can’t be somebody else. That’s like your first job: Figure out who you are before you start making music. Once you know who you are, then you start making music to basically reflect who you are.

I learned from Luther Vandross that you do not let anybody throw you off your path. He was so hardcore about not letting anybody discourage him even through people would say, “Ah, man nobody’s interested in just a standup singer.” He just ignored everybody and just did his thing. I learned different things about music from different musicians, so you end up being the sum of your experiences.

MSR: I was listening to Luther’s Never Too Much album this past weekend, and I realized that you were instrumental in creating the “Luther Sound.” Explain to me how that makes you feel.

MM: It was great. I was there from the beginning. Luther and I met when we were in Roberta Flacks’ backup band. I played on his first demo that had “Never Too Much” on it. And so I saw the first record blow up, and I saw Luther becoming a household name. So I’m very proud of being a part of that whole thing.

We ended up writing a lot of songs together: “Till My Baby Comes Home,” “It’s Over Now,” “For You to Love,” “The Power of Love,” “Don’t Wanna Be a Fool,” “Any Love.” I’m really blessed to have had the opportunity to make music with him. He was a genius.

MSR: I want to speak to the current young musicians on the album, and on your tour — Sean Jones, Maurice Brown, Kris Bowers… By the way, who are you bringing with you on the Dakota gigs?

MM: We’ll have a bad trumpeter player, Lee Hogan; Alex Han [on sax], who’s on the CD; Federico Gonzalez Peña on piano; Louis Cato on drums; and a guitar player that plays on the album, Adam Agati, is gonna be on guitar.

MSR: This interview or an excerpt of this interview will be published a week before you get here, so audiences will get the chance to read your thoughts on the album and upcoming concerts. So, what do you want your Minneapolis audiences to take away from your appearances?

MM: I just want them to enjoy the music. I want them to experience every emotion that they can possibly experience in one concert. Usually I tell people this is a chance for you to hear some fantastic musicianship on a really high level. But this is Minneapolis. Ya’ll are kind of use to really high musicianship.

We just want to keep the party rollin’. It’s gonna be with my own flavor and I’m excited.


For more information about Marcus Miller’s Dakota shows,see the Spot listings in this week’s paper.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to