Marcus Miller (born William Henry Marcus Miller, Jr.; June 14, 1959) is an American jazz composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist, best known as a bass guitarist. Throughout his career, Miller worked with trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Herbie Hancock, singer Luther Vandross, and saxophonist David Sanborn, as well as maintaining a successful solo career. Miller is classically trained as a clarinetist and also plays keyboards, saxophone and guitar.
Life and career
Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1959 and raised in a musical family that includes his father, William Miller (a church organist and choir director) and jazz pianist Wynton Kelly. By 13, Marcus was proficient on clarinet, piano and bass guitar, and already writing songs. Two years later he was working regularly in New York City, eventually playing bass and writing music for jazz flutist Bobbi Humphrey and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith. Miller soon became a first call session musician, appearing on over 500 albums by such artists as Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Mariah Carey, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Frank Sinatra, Dr. John, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Grover Washington, Jr., Donald Fagen, Bill Withers, Chaka Khan, LL Cool J and Flavio Sala.
Miller spent approximately 15 years performing as a sideman or session musician, observing how band leaders operated. During that time he also did a lot of arranging and producing. He was a member of the Saturday Night Live band 1978-1979. He wrote the intro to Aretha Franklin's 'I Wanna Make It Up To You'. He has played bass on over 500 recordings including those of Luther Vandross, Grover Washington Jr., Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, McCoy Tyner, Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol. He won the "Most Valuable Player" award, (awarded by NARAS to recognize studio musicians) three years in a row and was subsequently awarded "player emeritus" status and retired from eligibility. In the nineties, Miller began to make his own records, putting a band together to take advantage of touring opportunities.
Miller's proficiency on his main instrument, the bass guitar, is well-regarded. Not only has Miller been involved in the continuing development of the technique known as "slapping", particularly his "thumb" technique, but his fretless bass technique has also served as an inspiration to many, and he has taken the fretless bass into musical contexts and genres previously unexplored. The influences of some of the previous generation of electric bass players, such as Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, and Jaco Pastorius, are audible in Miller's playing. Early in his career, Miller was accused of being simply imitative of Pastorius, but has since more fully integrated the latter's methodology into his own sound.
Between 1988 and 1990 he appeared in the first season and again toward the end as both the musical director and also as the house band bass player in the Sunday Night Band during the two seasons of the acclaimed music performance program Sunday Night on NBC late-night television.
As a composer, Miller wrote all but two of the songs on Tutu for Miles Davis, including its title track – a piece that defined Davis's career in the late 1980s. He also composed "Chicago Song" for David Sanborn and co-wrote "'Til My Baby Comes Home", "It's Over Now", "For You to Love", and "Power of Love" for Luther Vandross. Miller also wrote "Da Butt", which was featured in Spike Lee's School Daze.
Miller currently has his own band. In 1997 he played bass guitar and bass clarinet in a band called Legends, featuring Eric Clapton (guitars and vocals), Joe Sample (piano), David Sanborn (alto sax) and Steve Gadd (drums). It was an 11-date tour of major jazz festivals in Europe.
On Sunday, 25 November 2012, Miller's 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.
In addition to his recording and performance career, Miller has established a parallel career as a film score composer (see listing below), having written numerous scores for films.
Awards and recognition
Miller has won numerous Grammy Awards as a producer for Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, Bob James, Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter. He won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1992, for Luther Vandross' "Power of Love" and in 2001 he won for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his fourth solo instrumental album, M2.
In 2012 Miller was appointed an UNESCO Artist for Peace supporting and promoting the UNESCO Slave Route Project.
He plays a 1977 Fender Jazz Bass that was modified by Roger Sadowsky with the addition of a Bartolini preamp so he could control his sound in the studio. Fender produced a Marcus Miller signature Fender Jazz Bass in four- (made in Mexico) and five-string (made in U.S) versions.[dead link] DR Strings also produces a series of Marcus Miller signature stainless steel strings known as "Fat Beams," which come in a variety of sizes.