A skillful player worthy of comparison with Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius, New Yorker Marcus Miller is undoubtedly one of the most influential bass players of his era. He started his career as a session musician, collaborating with the likes of Miles Davis and Luther Vandross. Since the late 1970s, he has appeared on more than 400 albums. Ever prolific and versatile, this sought-after multi-instrumentalist also earned some well-deserved producer and composer stripes along the way. Since the late 1990s, he has found the time to release several solo recordings despite a busy agenda.
An outstanding young talent
Marcus Miller was born in Brooklyn to a musical family. As a child, he looked up to his father, a church organist and choir director. The young boy soon displayed a gift for music: by the age of 13, he was competent on the clarinet, the piano and the bass guitar. He settled for the four-string instrument. One of his early influences was Larry Graham, a member of Sly and the Family Stone and the leader of funk combo Graham Central Station. Miller was quite taken with Graham' slap technique, which he proceeded to assimilate.
At 15, the musician was playing regularly in New York City night clubs. Around that time, he found work with flautist Bobbi Humphrey and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith, acting both as bassist and composer. In very little time, Miller became one of the most popular session men in town. He collaborated with Grover Washington Jr., Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Elton John, to name but a few - since his early days, the artist has appeared on over 400 albums.
In 1981, Miller received an offer he could not refuse: Miles Davis wanted him to join his touring group. The bass player made the most of the opportunity, following the footsteps of his cousin Wynton Kelly who played piano with Davis at the end of the 1950s and in the early 1960s.
A couple more hats
During his two-year engagement, Miller took on new responsibilities and started producing records. In 1980, he worked on saxophonist David Sanborn's Voyeur. Throughout the decade, he would go on to produce a host of recording artists including Chaka Khan, Wayne Shorter and Luther Vandross.
In 1986, Miller reunited with Miles Davis. He took charge of the Tutu album, for which he fulfilled the triple function of composer, player and producer. He also played an important role in making of Miles' Music from Siesta (1987) and Amandla (1989).
Meanwhile, the prolific and versatile musician tried his hand at film scoring. He wrote the soundtrack to House Party, Boomerang, Ladies' Man and Deliver Us from Eva, and co-wrote the hit tune Da Butt for Spike Lee's School Daze.
During the 1990s, Miller rekindled his solo career. Ten years after launching his first two recordings, he delivered three albums - The Sun Don't Lie (1993), Tales (1995) and Live & More (1997) - over a four year span.
M & M
The new millennium started with a bang thanks to M2. Recorded with an all-star cast comprised of Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Lenny White, among others, the album won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2001.
The following year, Miller made his first appearance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal - he stopped at the Spectrum. The best moments of his 2002 tour were sampled on an official bootleg, The Ozell Tapes, which found the musician on top of his game.
After having returned to Montreal in 2004, Miller made his third Festival visit in 2008. He arrived with new album Marcus and unveiled a bunch of funky new tracks showcasing his incredible mastery of the slap technique.
In 2010, Miller returned with the Tutu Revisited concert, as part of the Jazz All-Year Round series. Two years later, he shared the Festival stage with fellow bassists Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten. A new solo album, Renaissance, followed in August 2012.
In 2016, he came back to the Festival with Afrodeezia, a sublime journey from Africa to the U.S., rolling back to the sources of rhythm.