Primarily a bassist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, Marcus Miller has worked on hundreds of sessions -- crossing jazz, R&B, and rock -- and has released several solo recordings since his late-'70s beginnings with Bobbi Humphrey and Lonnie Liston Smith. Despite the many hats he has worn -- improviser, interpreter, arranger, songwriter, film-music composer, bassist, clarinetist, saxophonist -- none of them have been put on for the sake of a whim. Never one to merely get his feet wet, Miller has been a utility player in the most extreme and prolific sense.
He was a fixture as a performer in New York's jazz clubs before he was old enough to drive. Born in Brooklyn on June 14, 1959, and raised in nearby Jamaica, he knew how to play several instruments with ease by the time he entered his teenage years. His father, who directed a choir and played organ, had a profound impact upon his musical upbringing. Once he broke in with Humphrey and Smith, he gained steady work with the likes of Dave Grusin, Earl Klugh, Grover Washington, Jr., Chaka Khan, and Bob James. During 1981 and 1982, the in-demand musician went on the road with longtime personal hero Miles Davis and would end up working with him on several albums -- including Tutu and Music from Siesta -- after that.
Throughout the '80s, '90s, and 2000s, Miller scattered several of his own albums throughout the constant pull of production and session work. His solo recordings were almost as diverse as his outside work; hybrids of smooth R&B, funk, and jazz peppered the majority of the albums, while 1993's The Sun Don't Lie and the following year's Tales (both issued through PRA) also incorporated sampling technology. 2001's M2 won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. 2003's The Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg, released on Telarc, displayed his range as well as anything else bearing his handiwork; the live set incorporated originals, improvisation, and covers that ranged from material originally recorded by Talking Heads and the Stylistics to John Coltrane. Silver Rain appeared in 2005. In 2007, Miller issued Free in Europe, while 2008 saw Marcus released globally; it was his debut for Concord Jazz. In 2009, Miller formed a touring band with Christian Scott on trumpet; they recorded Tutu Revisited, a wide-ranging tribute to Miles Davis, and it was released in Europe in 2011 as a CD/DVD package. Miller returned to the studio for 2012's Renaissance, an album which contained a vocal duet by Gretchen Parlato and Rubén Blades, as well as a guest spot by Dr. John.
Miller was selected as a UNESCO Artist for Peace and also became spokesperson for the organization’s Slave Route Project. Recording sessions took place in Africa, Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and the United States. The sessions featured a wide range of guests including Chuck D., Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper, Etienne Charles, Ambrose Akinmusire, Keb’ Mo’, Wah-Wah Watson, Mocean Worker, and Ben Hong. A pre-release single, "Hylife," was issued in February of 2015, and hit the top spot on several jazz charts. The album, Afrodeezia, followed in March. ~ Andy Kellman