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Marcus Miller
World Traveler

By Aaron Cohen

Marcus Miller’s global journeys and extensive studio experience continue to inform his still-evolving style. The bassist and producer has a diverse, well-traveled background that allows him to feel at home just about anywhere. Now he’s in an ideal position to pass along the lessons he has learned about drawing from the world while holding onto one’s individuality.

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Marcus Miller

A generation is roughly defined as a period of about 30 years. 30 years ago – early ‘80s - America was rolling with Ronald Reagan at the wheel and his conservative “back to family values” tenets. A similar traditionalism was also being adopted by several prominent up-and-coming jazz musicians. While most of the then-young flock was looking back, Marcus Miller was looking ahead. By the middle of that decade in 1986, Marcus - the musician, composer and producer - was at the helm of one of the most impactful modern jazz masterpieces of the era with some futuristic roots music he composed for the legendary Miles Davis entitled Tutu.

Now with Renaissance in 2012, Marcus Miller surveys the landscape of not just music but society as a whole. In the same profound way that anointed gospel-soul singer Sam Cooke prophesized 50 years before in 1963, Miller feels that “a change is gonna come.” And just as with Tutu, he is ahead of the storm. Fortified by a team of hungry young players that includes trumpeters Sean Jones and Maurice Brown, alto saxophonist Alex Han, drummer Louis Cato, guitarists Adam Agati and Adam Rogers, and keyboardist Kris Bowers along with veteran keys wizards Federico Gonzalez Peña and Bobby Sparks, Miller is creating the soundtrack for this musical, cultural and spiritual revolution.

“I feel like a page is turning,” Miller muses. “The last of our heroes are checking out and we are truly entering a new era. Politically, things have polarized and are coming to a head. Musically, we’ve got all these cool ways to play and share music - MP3 files, internet radio and satellite radio - but the music is not as revolutionary as the media. It’s time for a rebirth.”

Renaissance finds Miller offering up an especially emotive 13-song collection that includes eight richly inspired original compositions that swing from a tip of the porkpie to the CTI Records sound of the `70s (“CEE-TEE-EYE”) to an introspective and ultimately hope-filled rumination about the island off the coast of Dakar in Africa known as “Gorée (Go-ray).” Renaissance also includes five cover songs that canvas works by soul-jazz culture band WAR, new wave-soul starlet Janelle Monáe, New York jazz dignitary Weldon Irvine, Brazilian musical ambassador Ivan Lins and Christian composer Luther “Mano” Hanes. Though the CD primarily features Miller’s smokin’ new band, it also features special guest vocalists Dr. John, Rubén Blades and Gretchen Parlato.

“Renaissance is a word that resonates on a lot of different levels for me,” Miller explains. “It’s about getting back to the essential aspects of art. I’m focusing less on production and more on composition, so this is a very clear album for me. People have often called me a ‘Renaissance Man.’ I always understood that to mean someone who’s got their creative hands in a lot of different things but not on a surface level. Like Leonardo da Vinci: he wasn’t just dabbling in things, he was going deep. I would really like to be that kind of guy. Over the past three decades of my career, I’ve been blessed to produce a wide variety of music that means something to people. I didn’t just do some cliché’s in different genres, like a guy who says he can speak 20 languages but all he’s saying is ‘how are you’ and ‘can I get something to eat.’ The real challenge is can you communicate something of substance to the people through these languages that you speak?”

Marcus Miller’s Renaissance opens strong with the slick funky bass feature “Detroit” and there is plenty more where that came from, with varying levels of heat and spice. “CEE-TEE-EYE” pays homage to extended studio blowing jams by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington, Jr. and Bob James in the tradition of producer Creed Taylor’s `70s contemporary jazz company CTI Records and includes a blistering mid-song ensemble break followed by a virtuosic bass solo by Marcus. Covers of WAR’s 1971 classic “Slippin’ Into Darkness” (which adds Ramon Yslas on congas) and Janelle Monáe’s 2010 debut breakthrough “Tightrope” (destined to be Marcus’ new jazz festival party-starter featuring the soulfully jovial Dr. John) both explore the dark and light sides of the musical threads that New Orleans weaves throughout African American culture. Marcus reaches back and brilliantly rearranges a composition by early mentor Weldon Irvine titled “Mr. Clean” throwin’ down a jam that will leave listeners in need of a neck brace by the mid-song bass break. Then there’s the two-headed cobra that is “Jekyll & Hyde.” Miller elaborates, “It starts off with that Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers type of horn melody…then all of a sudden it goes to Hendrix – the kind of rock the Black bands like Mother Night would play when I was coming up in New York - edgy but funky. We keep shiftin’ back and forth. In the middle I’d say, ‘Hyde’s wreaking havoc - better get back to Jekyll!’”

Beauty also abounds with Miller’s homage to Michael Jackson in a virtuosic cover of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” (“one of the first melodies I learned on the bass”) on which he references parts of the original’s vocal, rhythm and string arrangements simultaneously AND solo. Then there’s his own haunting “February,” penned on and for piano. “That song was written quickly and recorded quickly. That’s when you know you’ve got something special. ‘Tutu’ was like that. When we got to the solo, Alex broke a piece of his soul off onto the song. I thought, ‘Where is this cat from…to understand this thing so quickly?’ It’s beautiful but not sentimental. You know how some cats always play beauty like a bouquet of flowers? Alex didn’t do that. He just played from his soul.” Then there’s Miller’s thoughtful arrangement of legendary Brazilian composer Ivan Lins’ “Setembro,” made world famous in a version on Quincy Jones’ 1989 CD Back on the Block. Marcus switches to fretless bass here, à la Jaco Pastorius, and trades breathtaking melodic lines with swiftly up-and-coming singer Gretchen Parlato – the first vocalist ever admitted into The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance program. “I added an Afro Cuban section with the bass line from Dizzy’s ‘Manteca.’ Then I asked Rubén Blades to add something that would pull it all together. I reminded him the piece is subtitled ‘Brazilian Wedding Song’ and that I wanted him to share something profound about love. He came back with ‘Con amor todo se puede’ – ‘With love all is possible.’”

Deeper still, Renaissance houses some of Marcus’ most inspired and emotionally penetrating writing to date – particularly “Gorée (Go-ray)” which was inspired by a visit Marcus and his impressionable young band paid to the African island historically remembered as a warehouse for human cargo before it was shipped from the motherland to places elsewhere for the people to become slaves. “When I first presented this song to the band, I didn’t say anything about my inspiration. What they were playing was good but not quite there. So I said, ‘Remember when we were on the island and we saw where the captives were held and the doorway where all you could see was the sea?” I didn’t have to say another word… We didn’t want to make the piece about pain and resentment but about hope and all the wonderful things that have happened despite it all.” Fittingly, “Gorée (Go-ray)” features Marcus on his second signature instrument, the bass clarinet.

“Revelation” is a richly cinematic sojourn that provides spine-chilling showcases for Alex Han on sax and Adam Agati on guitar. Its opening interlude is the Mano Hanes composition “Nocturnal Mist” for which Marcus originally played bass clarinet as a featured guest on Israel & New Breed’s album A Timeless Christmas. On Renaissance, he rearranged it as a melodic bass feature. Finally, there’s the Zawinul-esque “Redemption.” Miller elucidates, “When you’re ready to go into this new phase we’re calling a renaissance, you need to understand what your redeeming qualities are so you can use them as your weapon. Never stop working on the things you need to improve but figure out what makes you a special human being. So this song has a searching quality to the melody – trying to find itself. Meanwhile the bass line is steady pushing…saying, ‘Don’t stop looking.’”

Marcus’ current touring band consists of trumpeter Maurice Brown (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Maya Azucena, Aretha Franklin), alto saxophonist Alex Han (Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Geri Allen), drummer Louis Cato (Beyoncé, Q-Tip, Sean Jones), guitarist Adam Agati (Lalah Hathaway, El Movimiento and Mary Mary), and 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition Award winner keyboardist Kris Bowers (Louis Hayes, Jay-Z & Kanye West, José James).

“I’ve got these next generation musicians in their `20s with me now that aren’t afraid of breaking boundaries,” Marcus concludes. “They’re absorbing and admiring the whole picture – from Clifford Brown to J.Dilla - honestly feeling both sides which, to my Black Experience, is what it’s all about. This young band fears nothing so we are free to go anywhere. I’m finding that to be incredibly inspiring. I am writing music for us that encompasses the full landscape.”

Tutu Revisited

A musician as versatile and in demand as Marcus Miller rarely has down time between projects. In fact, he is usually working on at least three at once. Presently, Marcus’ other focus is Tutu Revisited, an endeavor that began as a one-off concert in Paris to close the inaugural “We Want Miles” commemorative exhibit that bowed there in the summer of 2009. Marcus Miller was the primary composer and producer of the 1986 album Tutu that has come to define the final chapter of jazz great Miles Davis hallowed career. The title track “Tutu” was written in praise of South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and has since become one of jazz’s last classic compositions, instantly recognizable from its opening dramatic strikes. Since the song’s debut, it has been re-recorded by the likes of Al Jarreau & George Benson, The Manhattan Transfer, Ca
ssandra Wilson, S.M.V. (Stanley Clarke, Miller and Victor Wooten) and several “live” renditions by Marcus. But there has never been a look back at other songs from the seminal album on which Marcus showcased the raw beauty of Miles trumpet amid a sea of synthesizers, drum machines and keyboards (all of which Miller played himself)…until now.

“To me, Tutu captured Miles negotiating his way through a world that was half man/half machine, and finding a way to bend that word to his will,” Marcus muses. “In my opinion, it is a pretty good representation of what the `80s had to offer. When I was approached about revisiting that music in concert last year, I hesitated…because one thing universally understood about Miles is that he never looked back. Still, I was intrigued by the idea of saluting Miles and began to think of how I could present that music in a fresh context. I figured the best way to do that is with young musicians.”

The core that Miller came up with is New Orleans trumpet sensation Christian Scott in the hot seat – a player with just four albums of is own under his belt but with an assured confidence and style that reflects the past and points to the future. On drums is the explosive Ronald Bruner, Jr. who has been wowing audiences as a member of Stanley Clarke’s and George Duke’s bands. On keyboards is Federico Gonzalez Pena, a player of expert skill an impeccable taste who left his first indelible impressions as a member of MeShell NdegeOcello’s band. Finally on alto sax is Miller’s own discovery Alex Han who blew him away during an intensive 7-day master class he was teaching at the Berklee College of Music. “When I met Alex, he was incredible…especially to only be 19 years-old” Miller shares. “I was struck by his maturity, facility, ideas and spirit – everything you look for in a musician. Because he was still in school, I initially only used him for a summer tour. Now I’m proud to have this 22 year-old wonder in my band.”

It is this band that is featured in a new DVD project of Tutu Revisited that was recorded at the end of a three month tour that began in Japan and concluded with a night in Lyon that was lensed for a French TV broadcast and home video. Beyond the world-renowned title track, the band explores deep album tracks such as “Tomaas,” “Full Nelson,” “Portia” and the insanely funky “Splatch” (in two parts). They also explore songs from the follow-up to Tutu, Amandla (1989), as well as some things from the early `80s We Want Miles era, including the funkafied nursery rhyme “Jean Pierre.” After the first rehearsal where the young guns played the Tutu material practically note for note off the vinyl, Miller implored them to find their own voice within the music. And though Miller was a veteran of Davis’ early `80s “comeback” tours – first working with him at age 21 on his The Man With The Horn Lp - by the time of Tutu, he was not a member of the touring band. Now, Marcus gets to explore Tutu’s music live for the first time.

“Writing for Miles was nice because everything we did in that period he left his fingerprint on. It took me to another place and made me find sounds I wouldn’t have normally found. I was very inspired and could hear myself coming into my own. Miles recognized this, too, and told me, ‘Hey, you’re in that period! Recognize it and write as much as you can because these periods come and go…’ That was saying a lot because he had told Wayne Shorter (the saxophonist/prolific jazz composing genius for whom Miller produced High Life in 1995) the same thing two decades before me. After Miles gave me the benediction, I had a supreme level of confidence. I no longer cared what anyone thought of what I did. It freed me to just focus on making the best music I possibly can.”

Miles also once stated, “Marcus is so hip and into the music that he even walks in tempo.”  Ever to the beat of his own capricious and demanding drummer, Brooklyn-born bassist Marcus Miller is both a smooth walking weather vain for the future and a highly exalted keeper of the cool.

Unite to Salute Legendary Trumpeter in "TRIBUTE TO MILES"
On the European Jazz Festival Circuit 2011

Produced by Miller, The Concerts Will Pay Homage
To Each Decade of Davis' Ever-Evolving Soundscape
Then Pave Paths For Further "Directions in Music"

Twenty years after his death, American musical genius Miles Davis is as omnipresent as ever. From museum-worthy reissues of his classic recordings such as Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew to sprawling traveling exhibits of his artifacts and memorabilia to concert homages in his name by the world's greatest musicians, Miles Davis has evolved into a brand that stands for music at its boldest, most forward thinking and timeless.
Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller, three chameleonic and masterful
legends whose life legacies are indelibly intertwined with Davis', are uniting for a unique European tour called "Tribute to Miles" that will at once celebrate the music of Davis and, more importantly, his philosophy of constant evolution.

Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller's "Tribute to Miles" will play the internationally renowned European festivals Umbria, North Sea, Jazz a Vienne, Monteux, Jazz a Juan, Vitoia-Gasteiz and Jazz des Cinq in Marseilles, as well as a coveted performance at Paris' preeminent music hall, L'Olympia..

Marcus Miller, producer of the tribute, first worked with Davis as an electric bassist on his 1981 comeback album for Columbia Records, The Man With The Horn. However, it was in 1986 that Marcus was promoted into the hallowed position of primary collaborator with Davis for his first album at Warner Bros. Records, Tutu. The title track became not only Davis' last classic recording, but also a universally recognized jazz standard. Miller took a fond look back at the music of Tutu in 2010 by embarking upon his "Tutu Revisited" tour with a handpicked group of young musicians, some dates of which featured trumpeter Sean Jones, who will now also be joining Miller & Co. for "Tribute to Miles."

"After wrapping 'Tutu Revisited' and seeing firsthand how passionately received Miles' music remains with the public, I realized how easy it would be for me to just stay under the Miles Davis umbrella forever...which I clearly cannot do. I began to think, 'If I could do one more thing, what would that be?' Out of utmost admiration, I decided to approach Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. It's tricky paying homage to Miles... Wayne and Herbie are the perfect people to get into the spirit of Miles then move forward using the information that we got from him to challenge ourselves and make new statements."

This tribute to Miles is a way of celebrating the combined efforts of all pioneers historically to present day," Shorter elucidates, "and to project a telescopic probe to portals of the future.”

After making his debut with trumpeter Donald Byrd and soon after signing to Blue Note Records, pianist/composer Herbie Hancock joined trumpeter Miles Davis in 1963 where he became part of one of the most celebrated quintets in all of jazz music along with drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter and, shortly after, saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Shorter joined Miles' band after making a major impression in drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers quintet. During his tenure with Davis in the `60s, Shorter contributed several classic compositions to Davis' catalog and, indeed, the canon of jazz, including "Footprints," "Pinocchio," "Nefertiti" and "Fall" (recently utilized with poignancy in the Halle Berry film "Frankie & Alice"). In the `70s, Hancock and Shorter became leaders in their own right in the realm of electrified jazz-rock fusion: Hancock with his band The Headhunters and Shorter as co-founder of Weather Report (with another Davis alumnus keyboardist Joe Zawinul). While never remaining tethered to the past, they also had no issue with looking back at the great music they made with Davis, revisiting it under the name V.S.O.P. in the `70s and the Grammy-winning Miles Davis Tribute the `90s.

The ever in-demand Marcus Miller first worked with Wayne Shorter as producer of his 1995 Verve Records CD High Life. A decade later, he worked with Herbie Hancock in the all-star septet Headhunters `05. Miller has also been a part of Hancock's Grammy-winning all-star recordings Possibilities and The Imagine Project, plus invited

Hancock to be a guest on the Marcus Miller-hosted North Sea Jazz Cruise. With Hancock and Shorter being close friends/associates for decades and Miller a coveted newer comrade, the chemistry between this triumvirate is potent for mind-blowing musical exploration of the highest order.

Sketching his vision of how the "Tribute to Miles" performances will play out, Miller muses, "We'll probably play something to represent each of Miles' musical eras - the bop and the cool of the `50s, the expansiveness of the `60s of which Herbie and Wayne played an integral part, the electric experiments of the `70s, and his final music of the`80s on which I worked closely with him. Then we'll spend the meat of the concert exploring Miles philosophy and seeing what else we can find. It would not be in the spirit of Miles to just do a retrospective."

Playfully pondering the origin from where some of that new music might come, Miller adds, "Wayne's always got stuff. I just have to go underneath his piano and grab the little pieces of music paper masterpieces he's forgotten about. There's probably a whole album's worth of music right there that Herbie, Wayne and I can finesse into something exciting and fresh."

"The next generation of artists can choose to pursue paths of the familiar," Shorter muses,"or take the road less raveled 'to do the mission.' Financial gain can come with the life of the entertainer...yet artistic endeavor on the road least traveled comes with adversity born of human frailties such as ignorance, arrogance and avarice. The mission of the pioneer is to know the value of their work. That value is equal to human value...and real value always meets with great resistance. Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk all experienced 'the great resistance.' Charlie Parker instinctively knew that there is a price to be paid when creating something original. Originality has been a financial burden in terms of marketing and audience conditioning. This was the case with Be Bop and Jazz, America's original art form. So here we are celebrating the courage of the pioneers as a testimony to the human spirit. The future is in the moment - the challenge of all improvisation!"

Sean Rickman son of guitarist Phil Upchurch who has worked with Steve Coleman, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dapp Theory, and his own band, Garaj Mahal will be playing drums.

Triumphantly united within "Tribute to Miles," Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller are certain to explore both the inner workings and the outer reaches of the timeless mystique that is Jazz's Black Prince of Darkness, Miles Dewey Davis III.

George Duke - Marcus Miller - David Sanborn
To Lead Band For Scorching Summer Tour!

Three Legends of Jazz Funk Fusion To Tour U.S.
For First Time As Unit - Sponsored by Jazz Cruises

Fans of the crossroads where funk and jazz intersect mark your calendars for an explosive concert package coming this summer. Keyboard wizard George Duke, bass master Marcus Miller and saxophone sorcerer David Sanborn are pooling the essence of their collective musical excellence as DMS. Each a leader and composer in his own right, these legendary men will be gifting the masses with extra long sets of ferocious funk, serious jazz, to-the-bone blues and, basically, anything they feel like playing that night. This one-of-a-kind U.S. Tour - beginning in May at the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida - will be sponsored by Jazz Cruises, producer of The Jazz Cruise and The Smooth Jazz Cruise.

It was Michael Lazaroff at Jazz Cruises who thought it would be a great idea to bring the all-star music party at sea that Miller and Sanborn have been co-hosting and Duke has been a frequently featured guest to jazz fans on land. It was two-time Grammy-winner Miller who connected with both Duke and Sanborn in the late `70s during his early days as an A-list session musician in New York City. "I first played with Dave in the 'Saturday Night Live' house band, went on the road with him, wrote songs for his Voyeur album and eventually produced many of his records," he states. "I first worked with George when he produced The Brecker Brothers' 1980 album Detente, but because he worked more on the west coast, our paths didn't cross in a major way until 1985. He wrote a song for Miles Davis titled 'Backyard Ritual' that inspired both Miles to move into a more contemporary direction and me to write Miles more songs for that album - including the title track 'Tutu' - which became his last signature recording."

Six-time Grammy-winner Sanborn provided the other key connection via his acclaimed television program "Night Music" in the `80s. Miller was the Musical Director for season 1 and Duke was the MD for season 2. The crux of that show was bringing outstanding musicians together from all styles and genres, creating a melting pot of aural delight that was as enlightening as it was enjoyable. That all started for Sanborn the first time he saw The Ray Charles Orchestra after a basketball game as a teenager. "That music was everything to me," he told NPR. "It combined Jazz, Gospel and R&B. It wasn't any one of those things but all of them. That, to me, is the essence of American music."Sanborn went on to become one of the most sought after saxophonists for 16-bar straight-to-the-heart solos for everyone from Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones to Linda Ronstadt and Michael Franks.

It is that effortless and ingrained versatility that bonds Duke, Miller and Sanborn. Duke's resumé extends from alto sax giant Cannonball Adderley to eccentric rock and roll genius of Frank Zappa with Stanley Clarke, Dianne Reeves and Deniece Williams in between. Likewise, Miller has the distinct honor of having his compositions immortalized by not just Miles Davis and David Sanborn but also the late, lamented soul star Luther Vandross, playing on R&B classics such as "Never Too Much" and co-composing and co-produced others such as "Power of Love/Love Power." All three of these music masters are critically acclaimed, commercially successful and professionally in-demand, in possession of unlimited capacities in all styles of music. Now they are bringing it all together for a once-in-a-lifetime DMS Tour.

"Dave and I already had plans to reunite after being away from each other for a while," Miller states. "When we were thinking of adding a third person and our booking agent suggested George Duke, Dave and I looked at each other, like, 'Is that possible? Is he available? Let's do it! The three of us had the chance to play together in January on the Smooth Jazz Cruise and the vibe was great. Now we’re looking forward to seeing where else we can take the music.'

Two-time Grammy-winner George Duke sums up the possibilities of this super Soul-Jazz summit that is DMS. "You know, the amazing thing is that we have not done this before now. Each one of us in some way has changed the musical landscape. Now we are bringing this mountain of experience together to move and change it again. For me, the great thing is that we have such a wealth of musical knowledge, experience and history to choose from. More important is for us to take that wealth and formulate a fresh identity of who we are now - as a band - from this time forward. Accomplishing that will be the stuff of legend!"