Born in Brooklyn, NYC, Marcus Miller is a multi-instrumentalist and has collaborated with some of the greatest names in Jazz.
Please tell us about your story and about your beginning in music and Jazz.
I'm originally from New York City. I was born in Brooklyn, NY and eventually moved to Jamaica, Queens NY.
My family was very musical on my father's side of the family. My father was a pianist and an organist who played church services every Sunday morning. He had a large family full of musicians and singers including jazz pianist, Wynton Kelly, who played with some great artists in the 50's and 60's including Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery and Dinah Washington.
So music was a part of my life from a very young age. I got even more serious about music when I heard Michael Jackson and his brothers with their group, The Jackson Five. I thought it was amazing to see kids my age playing music that sounded so good.
I was already playing the piano and the clarinet but after hearing the J5, I really wanted to play r & b music so I picked up the bass guitar and fell in love with it. I began to learn every r&b song I could on the bass guitar.
When I got to high school one of my classmates introduced me to jazz and I fell in love with that. I began to explore the history of jazz and realized that I had a family member (Wynton Kelly) who was a well known jazz musician. Up until that point, I really wasn't aware of exactly what kind of music cousin Wynton played.
Eventually I started to combine my two influences, r&b and jazz. This was during the 70's when many other musicians were doing the same thing. I also began adding other influences from NY into my music: caribbean music, funk, latin, and african.
What are the values promoted by Jazz? Why do you think a day like International Jazz Day is important?
I think jazz is a beautiful, democratic music. It encourages musicians with very strong, and many times, very different points of view to work together as a team while, at the same time, giving them the space to express their individuality. It's a very important art form and can be used as a model for different cultures to work together.
You will be nominated as a peace promoting ambassador. Could you explain how Jazz can promote peace?
Jazz is a music that has survived for nearly 100 years because of it's ability to embrace and incorporate different styles and new developments. Each time you think jazz is finished, some new artist comes along and shows us a new version of jazz; a version that maintains jazz's history but also incorporates whatever new developments/perspectives that come along. Jazz lovers have disagreed about whether the new styles of jazz have merit or not but the disagreements are all tempered with love and commitment to preserving jazz. This is the perfect model for peace. Jazz lovers can have disagreements but we all know that the preservation of jazz is the overall goal. So the disagreements never explode into something destructive. And jazz continues to grow.
Which Jazz greats inspired you most? What would you like to tell him/her?
Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock inspired me very much. I would simply say "thank you" to each of them. I'm glad that I can thank Herbie personally!
The decade of people of African ascent (2013-2022)is being organized by the United Nations. As a Jazzman, which role will you play? Tell us about “Goree” and how you got to write this title ?
I wrote Gorée after visiting the island and hearing the story of the captive Africans who were kept there in preparation for their voyage across the sea into slavery. I was very moved, standing there in the slave house, "la maison des esclaves and decided to write a piece about what we were feeling standing there. I wanted to make the piece not just about pain and suffering but also about the ability of persecuted people to transcend their situations and achieve great things.
As musicians, particularly as jazz musicians, we already have the ear of people all over the world. I would like to use this opportunity to call attention to the decade of people of African descent. Music opens doors and allows people to hear messages they might not otherwise hear.
What would be your advice to a young artist willing to start his/her career in Jazz?
My advice would be to keep your ears open, practice, and also keep your eyes open because opportunity is not always obvious. Sometimes a small gig in a tiny café can become the turning point in your career because someone who can help you happens to be having a coffee that night!
What is your most memorable Jazz ‘moment’?
My most memorable moment was recording a composition of mine with Miles Davis and realizing that I was awake, not dreaming!
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