SFJAZZ.org | 5 Things To Know About Marcus Miller

On The Corner Masthead

Marcus Miller

March 29, 2021 | by Rusty Aceves

Marcus Miller at SFJAZZ

This week’s Fridays at Five streaming concert from June 2018 features bass virtuoso and composer Marcus Miller and his supercharged band. Here are five things you should know to get you ready for the show.

  1. He has consistently released innovative music.
    A musical polymath, the Brooklyn-born Miller is one of the greatest living bass players, but is also a classically trained clarinetist who is similarly adept at keyboards, guitar, and saxophone.
    Though he started as a session musician and is a collaborator at heart, Miller has found time to tour and record regularly as a leader, releasing 13 albums beginning with 1983’s Warner Brothers session Suddenly up through 2018’s Laid Black for Blue Note. Through it all, Miller has maintained a firm grip on the ever-changing musical zeitgeist, putting out virtuosic, groove-heavy albums that speak to their times and places, always accompanied by an impressive cast of masters. His 2000 album M2 (M Squared) won the GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
  2. He is one of the most prolific collaborators in jazz.
    Miller has been one of the most recorded and prolific collaborators, composers, producers, arrangers, and session artists in modern music for over four decades. From his early years in the Saturday Night Live band and working with flutist Bobbi Humphrey and organist Lonnie Liston Smith to the present day, Miller has appeared on well over 500 recordings, collaborating with Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson, Wayne Shorter, Aretha Franklin, Grover Washington Jr., Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Roberta Flack, Frank Sinatra, Bill Withers, Jon Batiste, and innumerable others. He won a GRAMMY for Best R&B Song in 1992 in recognition of his composition “Power of Love” for singer Luther Vandross, and won the “Most Valuable Player” award so many times from The Recording Academy in recognition of session musicians that he is now an “emeritus” artist and ineligible for the honor.
  3. He was instrumental in Miles Davis’ 1980s return to music.
    When Miles Davis finally returned to music after his self-imposed exile in the mid-1970s, the trumpeter wanted the best and brightest with him for the next chapter in his career, and that meant Miller as his bassist. For Miller this was a full-circle moment, since his cousin, pianist Wynton Kelly, was a member of Davis' group that recorded his epochal 1959 album Kind of Blue. After performing on and touring for Davis’ first three albums of the 1980s — The Man with the Horn (1981), We Want Miles (1982), and Star People (1983) — Miller had earned Davis’ trust and respect enough that their fourth project together, 1986’s GRAMMY winnerTutu, was produced, arranged, and largely composed by the bassist. Davis and Miller received co-credit for the soundtrack for director Mary Lambert’s 1987 film Siesta with compositions by Miller, who again arranged and composed the majority of the material on their final collaboration, 1989’s Warner Brothers release Amandla.
  4. He’s had a lengthy career as a film composer.
    The aforementioned score to Mary Lambert’s Siesta was Miller’s first real step into soundtrack composition, and he has gone on to write the scores for or contribute material to 26 feature films including School Daze (1988), House Party (1990), Boomerang (1992), A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), Above the Rim (1994), The Ladies Man (2000), Head of State (2003), I Think I Love My Wife (2007), Obsessed (2009), and Marshall (2017), among many others.
  5. He has a memorable history with SFJAZZ.
    Miller made his debut at SFJAZZ in October 2005 as part of the 23rd San Francisco Jazz Festival in a collaborative performance with vocalist Lalah Hathaway at the Masonic Auditorium. Since then, he has performed with trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah at the Herbst Theater in a program called “Tutu Revisited” during the 2010 SFJAZZ Spring Season in June 2010, during the 30th San Francisco Jazz Festival in 2012 in support of his album Renaissance, in a 2013 Discover Jazz education event in the Joe Henderson Lab during our first season in the SFJAZZ Center, and the 2018 performance on the Miner stage in support of his newest Blue Note release, Laid Black that is the subject of this week’s Fridays at Five. For this June 2018 show during the 39th San Francisco Jazz Festival, Miller brought a fiery band including longtime collaborator Alex Han on saxophone, Chicago-based trumpet star Marquis Hill, keyboardist Brett Williams, and rising drum phenom Alex Bailey.

     Marcus Miller and his band perform Miller's composition "Three Deuces"

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