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“I leave room for young people…” The genius jazz bassist Marcus Miller confides

Marcus Miller and the Côte d’Azur is now a long love story. The links are strengthened over the years, take on other colors and appear everywhere. Very often in Juan-les-Pins and Monaco, where the late Jean-René Palacio invited him as soon as possible. But also, more sporadically, in Nice. Version Grande parade du jazz, in Cimiez, or in the current configuration of the Nice Jazz Festival, in the city center. At 63 years old (one would say he was twenty years younger), the genius bassist is the link between two eras. The kid who composed Tutu for Miles Davis in his twenties has become a “wise man”, the one charged with passing the baton. “For a very long time, all the musicians I played with were at least ten years older than me. I barely had time to blink and I became the oldest”, says Marcus Miller in an exchange conducted alternately in French and English. Despite his great availability, time quickly passed there too. We would have stayed for hours to listen to him talk about the legends he has worked with and explain to us all the subtleties of his game…

You seemed very curious in front of our photographer’s equipment…

Yes, it’s a hobby that I really enjoy. I still have a Leica, which I like. It’s expensive, but it’s amazing. Working with light is interesting.

Have you already shown your images?

No, but maybe I’ll start. Before the Covid, I had planned an exhibition, in Washington DC. There would be images of Hugh Masekela, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter… My friends, what. I met and I meet so many incredible musicians that I have the opportunity to take very intimate shots.

When we talk about you, it seems like you’ve already had twenty lives in music…

When I start to tell the stories that I have experienced in music, I realize that the dates are more and more distant. In 1979, I started as a professional, I was fifteen years old. I played in disco, funk, hip-hop, African, Latin, or Caribbean music groups, reggae. Rap was born in my neighborhood, I was there when Kurtis Blow started. I was also in the House Band of the show saturday night liveI saw Eddie Murphy’s career start there.

Was there a click that made you understand that the technique should not make you forget the emotion?

There wasn’t a really specific moment. But Roberta Flack, with whom I played, was completely sensitive. Luther Vandross was Roberta’s backing vocalist. Together, we scrutinized the way she touched people. It was magical. When Luther started recording his own records, we used that background. I have never seen an audience as moved as before this gard singing. He could make a crowd of 30,000 people cry, there was such a quality of listening… His silences were wonderful, no one would have wanted to interrupt them.

Like those of Miles Davis, who trusted you?

Of course, he had the technique. But he didn’t use it all the time. He was playing two notes and moving people emotionally. I recorded with many, many people. But everyone who was at the top had this quality. George Benson also has an incredible technique. But it’s his way of making you feel things that’s even stronger.

Today, you are a leader…

In my head, I had to change to become one and give my opinion to these young people. I really believe that the musicians are making good progress in my band (Russell Gunn on trumpet, Julian Pollack on keyboards, Donald Hayes on saxophone, Anwar Marshall on drums). Because I give them space, I play in a way that allows them to express themselves. Especially for drummers.

Why them?

When they start with me, they usually hit everywhere. With a lot of energy, but with little sensitivity. They need to understand not to disturb other musicians when they are telling a story. It’s a matter of immaturity. And I always tell the drummer that I will give him his opportunity.

Have you been in that “young wolf” position too?

It was the same for me, but I think I learned very quickly. Because I just had to support a singer like Roberta Flack, without overdoing it. But at some point, I went too far in that direction. at 21, people were starting to tell me that my game wasn’t very exciting anymore. I had to find a balance.

And find that inimitable sound…

It’s very hard to find your own sound. When Miles disappeared, I resumed my solo career, I had this desire to develop an instantly recognizable sound. When you have it, you have to work it delicately, give it a patina like a piece of wood.


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