Marcus Miller is interviewed by Dmitriy Podberyoski ('Jazz Quadrat')

The musician Miller has not been known very long in our country. Can you give us some information about how your career in music began?

I began playing bass guitar when I was thirteen and was playing with professionals within two years. My first group-mates were flautist Bobbi Humphrey and drummer Lenny White, and I also played with Michal Urbaniak and Walter Bishop Jr.
By the time I was nineteen I was given studio work, I played on records of such musicians as: David Sanborn, Dave Grusin, Grover Washington Jr., Paul Simon, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Stanley Turrentine, McCoy Tyner, and George Benson. I played also on radio and television commercial programmes; in the band on the "Saturday Night Live" television show. Later, when I was twenty two, Miles Davis called me. He was looking for a bass guitar player.

Marcus Miller

What does jazz mean, as one style of music, in your opinion?

Jazz music was first established in New Orleans in the early 1900s and was later developed by musicians like: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, the big bands of Jimmy Lansford and Count Basie, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Jazz was established as a music based on Afro-American spirituals, blues and improvisations of European and American song forms. Jazz has changed a lot since then and has acquired new elements, today there are even connections with the latest pop music and traditional Indian music. Modern jazz is a very broad church, but there are always elements of blues and improvisation.

Marcus Miller

What do you think are the most important aspects of jazz in the 1990s? Which musicians are making the most impact now?

I believe that the special feature of jazz in the '90s is the re-invention of the styles of early jazz. Jazz today is in its second phase of development. Its first phase was one of continuous invention; the second phase is about leaving but appreciating them. Some masters of the art have analysed the magical music established over the last hundred years and dedicated themselves to the preservation of this music, but other musicians continue to search for new sounds. For example, Wayne Shorter is one who is always looking for new versions of jazz for the new millennium; Cyrus Chestnut and John Redman are working to conserve the music made by their teachers.

Marcus Miller

Is there any difference between modern American and European jazz? If so, what is it?

In my view, the differences between American and European jazz were more serious. Jazz is music for which the musician has to know his past and use it in the creation of new music. As the history of European music is so different from that of American music, this was reflected in the playing of jazz musicians. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but American jazz is generally more bluesy in character, while European jazz is more influenced by classical music. In today's world of closer relations, European and American musicians are brought up on similar music and the differences in their jazz are narrowing.

Marcus Miller

Do you agree with the idea that in modern jazz we are in an era in which the dominant force is electronic music? Sometimes it seems that drummers will have to be written into the 'Red Book' of endangered species….

I think you should make music with any means at your disposal. Just as it takes time to learn to play acoustic instruments, so it also takes time to learn an electronic instrument. Most musicians start playing before they learn the instrument properly. In this case the instrument teaches the musician. I believe that now there is a tendency towards acoustic instruments.

Which make of instrument do you prefer and why?

In 1977 my mother bought me a "Fender Jazz Bass" and this is the one I usually play. It is good in every respect: it has a good sound for different styles and is robust. It has a characteristic sound and I like playing it. Occasionally I also play the "Sadowski Five-String Bass". The bass clarinet I play is made by "Buffet".
Marcus Miller

Do you think that blues will continue to be the basis of jazz?

Modern jazz has a wide range of influences, but I think blues will remain the main source of emotion in the music.

Marcus Miller

Should we expect a revolution soon in jazz, as with be-bop and jazz-rock?

As time goes by, music changes, it simply reflects what is happening in the world. If there are significant changes within culture then jazz will reflect them in its development, as long as jazz retains a modern idiom and musicians find it a useful medium for self-expression. If jazz reverts to a historical form reflecting only the past, then musicians will find another way of expressing their changing feelings, for example, rap, alternative rock….

Marcus Miller

What is the role of the commercial in modern jazz?

If you are referring to high level commercial jazz, then it can open doors to a 'casual' audience, who may take the chance to understand jazz more deeply. But if the quality of commercial jazz is low then, even if the audience enjoys it, it will never inspire them to investigate more sophisticated forms of jazz.

Marcus Miller

Today jazz musicians may be quite well-off.

If you mean by 'quite well-off' you mean that the musician's wealth affects his music, then I think you must be referring to someone in particular. For example in the 1950s Miles was earning pretty well, but his music stayed at a fantastic level, or take Herbie Hancock, who is still making good music. There are some musicians, however, in whose minds money is most important and they are the ones who forget why they are playing.

Marcus Miller

Where did the idea come from to record the album, 'Tutu'? And was it Miles' who selected the musicians?

As I heard, Miles left Columbia and signed with Warner Bros. I knew Tommy Lipuma, a producer with Warner Bros, and I called him to ask if he needed some compositions for Miles. He was interested in my offer and as a result we recorded my compositions in Los Angeles. Two days later, Miles listened to them, liked them and suggested we continue to work. Finally he brought his own trumpet to the studio and we began to work on the trumpet parts. I added some parts for different instruments and played them for Miles. We edited the tracks he liked and tried other things.

Marcus Miller

What did working with Miles Davis, as a player and as a composer, give you? How did Miles get on with young musicians, the representatives of a new generation in jazz?

Miles gave me the opportunity to release the music I had inside. I watched him creating his own music, regardless of the critics, and it inspired me to do the same. Miles supported my way of composing music for him. If you research Miles' albums, you can observe how my style of composition developed. Miles was like a godfather to the new generation of jazz musicians. For the sharpness of his thought, his feelings, his dexterity and his sincerity, he was unique and young musicians tried to emulate him.

Marcus Miller

What do you know about our country and our people? When can our jazz fans hope to meet you and hear you? Are you planning to play in Moscow?

I'd like to play in Moscow. According to musicians who have played there audience enthusiasm is outstanding. I hope to visit Russia in 1998 and let everyone hear how we play!