Marcus Miller

Two-time Grammy award winner, bassist, songwriter, musician, record producer, musical director and UNESCO Artist for Peace – it would be fair to say that Marcus Miller has packed a lot into his 30+ year career.  Hailed as one of the most influential bassists across jazz, R&B, fusion and soul music, Miller is probably best known for his 15 year partnership with Luther Vandross, but his work is prolific and his influence stretches way beyond this.  His signature bass slap style of playing features on over 500 recordings with numerous well-known artists across all music genres.

Miller – full name William Henry Marcus Miller Jr. – was born in 1959, Brooklyn.  Music was always going to be his destiny; his father was a church organist and choir director, and his cousin was jazz pianist Wynton Kelly.  As we’ve seen with so many other legendary bassists, Miller’s experience with music began early and was extremely varied.  He was initially classically trained to play the clarinet, before later turning his hand to learn saxophone, keyboards and guitar.  Miller’s music career began in New York where he established himself as a solid session musician.  Over a 15 year period, influenced by the likes of James Jamerson and Larry Graham, Miller honed his skills, regularly arranging and producing music.  In 1979 he became part of the Saturday Night Live band, and in the early 1980s he toured with Miles Davis’ band.  Miller and Davis forged a close professional relationship over this time, which resulted in them producing three albums together – the most famous of which being Tutu, released in 1986.  The majority of this record was written and arranged by Miller, who also produced and performed on the album.  The title track features Miller playing bass, synthesizers, drum machine and saxophone.  The Davis-Miller partnership was a successful one; Tutu is considered to be one of the most definitive albums of Davis’ career – and of contemporary jazz in general – and it picked up two Grammy awards in 1986.

However, Miller’s most successful partnership was with singer/songwriter Luther Vandross.  They first met when they were part of Roberta Flack’s band in the late 1970s, and after recording a demo of Never Too Much in some hastily snatched studio time on a Sunday morning, the song got picked up by a record label and so began a collaboration that lasted over 15 years.  This magical partnership produced 13 consecutive platinum selling albums and two Grammy awards.  In addition to his sizable catalogue of work with Vandross, Miller has also worked with scores of big names across all styles of music including Frank Sinatra, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson and Beyoncé.

Miller has also successfully released many solo albums over the course of his career.  Afrodeezia – which was inspired by his role as a UNESCO spokesperson for the Slave Routes Project – combined musical influences from countries along the Atlantic slave route passage, working with musicians from West Africa, North Africa, South America and the Caribbean.  This album earned Miller another Grammy nomination and was a massive success, racking up 250 sell out shows across the globe following its release.  Alongside his collaborations and solo projects, Miller has worked in TV and film as a composer, producing scores for over 20 urban movies, and, as if he wasn’t busy enough, he also currently broadcasts two jazz radio shows; one in the US and one in the UK.

For a large proportion of his career, Miller played a Fender Jazz bass.  After initially owning a Univox bass as a teen, Miller got his first Fender Jazz in 1975.  Unfortunately, he lost this bass, and its subsequent replacement, in fairly quick succession (the first he left leaning against his car before driving off without it, and the other was stolen from his car in New York).  Miller then got a modified 1977 Fender Jazz bass with a transparent blonde finish, which became his signature bass that he used for everything.  Clearly noting his love of the brand, Fender produced a Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass in 1998, in both four string and five string versions, and various other models followed.  However, in 2015, Miller was introduced to Sire bass guitars, who were looking to produce an entry level bass.  After initially being uncertain about moving away from his much-loved Fenders, Miller was impressed by the quality and versatility of the Sire models – especially a feature which enabled players to change from playing in an active style to a more submissive tone via the flick of a switch.  Miller was keen to be involved and the Marcus Miller Signature V7 model was produced shortly after.  Since then, Miller has endorsed Sire basses and the company has produced a complete Marcus Miller Signature range, which aims to provide superior bass guitars at more accessible prices without compromising on sound and tone.  Some commentators might say that this is Miller’s way of giving back, and by presenting the bassists of tomorrow with an opportunity to thrive, he is mirroring how Miles Davis offered young bassists like Miller the opportunity to tour with him and perfect their craft, which clearly helped Miller in forging his own career.

So, there we have it – another bass legend.  Miller’s unique style, natural musicality and technical skill make him a true icon.  Bass Player magazine included Miller within its top ten list of most influential jazz players of this generation, and in 2021 they awarded him with a Lifetime Achievement Award to recognise his significant contribution.  These awards are often presented towards the end of a musician’s career, however, we’re pretty sure that Miller won’t be hanging up his bass just yet…A quick glance at his website shows a raft of shows planned for spring 2024, so it doesn’t look like he’ll be retiring any time soon – which makes us very, very, happy indeed.

Want to recreate Marcus Miller’s slap tone?  Check out this stunning model on our website:

Fender Japan Marcus Miller Signature Jazz Bass MIJ

Serial Number – A039326
Colour – Olympic White
Body Finish – Gloss
Body Wood – Ash
Neck Finish – Gloss
Neck Wood – Maple
Fretboard – Maple
Frets – 20
Scale Length – 34″
Weight – 10lbs1oz/4.6kgs
Electronics – Fender 2 Band Preamp
Pickups – Fender Jazz

Videos and links on Marcus Miller

  1. Check out this clip of Miller playing an awesome bass solo on David Sanborn live from the 1980s here:
  2. Watch Miller discussing various Sire basses at the Chicago Music Exchange:
  3. See Miller reeling off some of Luther Vandross’ hits here:
  4. Listen in to this interview with Miller: