Allow me to start with your quote: "There are very good musicians today, but I haven't heard anything really overpowering in a long time. I guess it has to do with the age we live in”.  What does the idea of overpowering mean to you strictly in musical terms and what are the elements of the age we live in that somehow stand between the artists and their creative force?
Well, the powerful is very easy. When James Brown first hit the scene he was so powerful that everybody was trying to sing like James Brown. People couldn’t help themselves; they had to try to emulate. When Sly and the Family Stone did their thing everybody started to wear crazy clothes, big afros, etc. Or, when John Coltrane started playing very free he started a whole movement of people who tried to copy this. Herbie Hancock with the funk jazz, or Prince, and Michael Jackson… All these people were so powerful because once you heard it you couldn’t get out of your system. It went inside you; it went inside your bones. Miles Davis! Many times! Four or five times he created this feeling. So for me that’s what’s really powerful. And I haven’t heard that recently when somebody’s so powerful that he starts a whole school of musicians who emulate this power. But maybe it’s because now things are spread out. There’s not a one artist that you see everyday or you hear every day. Twenty years ago every time you turned on a TV it was Michael Jackson. So part of it is that the media helps creating this power but also you have something that’s really strong and undeniable. And I think that’s what I look for.

Why do we expect overpowering and new things every time we listen to music? I mean, is this a right approach to the music or to the culture in general?

My idea is that it shouldn’t be this way. But we are human beings. We always look for strong leaders. When we read the history books we don’t read about just nice people. We read about the leaders whether they were good or bad. That’s what we are attracted to. When there’s a problem, when society has a problem, they look to one person who’s strong, who’s sure of themselves. I guess that’s the way we are programmed. We look for leaders. It’s absolutely the same say in jazz. I think that we are always looking for somebody and if there’s nobody we take the closest thing. I don’t know if it’s the right way but that’s the way we are.


Great musicians of the past era were adding fresh choices to their idiom thus keeping the doors of possibilities open to the successors. Again, strictly in musical terms, what do you think the next generation of musicians will have from you and your peers?

Well, I think that what I’d like to leave is a book that is still open. A book full of possibilities so that when you listen to my music you hear that I was always trying to incorporate something new whether it is a new rhythm or some new scale or whatever it is. I try to leave it open so you understand that this is what keeps jazz alive; keeping the book open. Jazz has lasted a long time and if you ask why, well, because every time it got still somebody came with something from the contemporary world and combined it with jazz and gave it a new life and here we go again. In the 20-30ies people were dancing to jazz and that kind of got normal until Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie said - listen to this! This complicated music, this complicated version of jazz… And people absorbed that. Then Miles came up with cool version. After that Lou Donaldson and Lee Morgan and Herbie Hancock said, - hey, what about the funky? And then Trane says: what about this? And it has opened the new era. Every time something new and then when it seems like there’s nowhere else to go, because Trane had taken the melody to the highest level, he took the improvisation to the highest level, and there was a question: what are we going to do now? Then suddenly comes Herbie Hancock with his version of jazz and here we go again. It’s a beautiful story. Like a Phoenix. Every time it goes down it just comes back. That’s the beautiful thing about jazz. It is constantly revived. Now we have hip-hop to kind of help jazz again, not as strong I think, hip-hop jazz movement, as the funk jazz used to be but it still gave the life and we are just sitting around waiting to see what’s going to happen. That’s what I’d like to hand off to the next generation, it’s like, Ok, you figure out what’s next.

Can you already tell where they are taking it from here?

I don’t know. I know where I want to take it. I’m traveling around the world and the world is getting much smaller and all of a sudden I’m here in music that I’ve never heard before, and it doesn’t sound so foreign to my ears like it did twenty years ago. It sounds like something I’d like to try to incorporate. It’s really exciting.

There are some critics and musicians who claim that great musicians do not necessarily advance the music.  Do you think that one can find his/her identity in jazz with great individual resonance through the affirmation of the tradition without dwelling in the clichés of it?

Like I said before, that goes against human nature. We always have somebody who presents us the new way to see the world and that’s the most exciting thing in the world. Yes, you have people who are continuing the tradition and that’s lovely. It makes you feel good and it makes you to appreciate the tradition but there’s noting like somebody who shows up with something new. We have a guy running for a president of the United States now, - Barack Obama. He says the things I’ve never heard before, and I’ve never seen the feeling like this before in my life. I mean, Martin Luther King, yes, but I was eight or nine years old then. As an adult I’ve never seen this kind of excitement, you know; possibilities of something new because he’s showing us something new. Before Barack we had a lot of great leaders but it was always a version of what had happened before, so we appreciated that but no one got excited like they get excited now. When Miles Davis and Charlie Parker did be-bop, well, you can’t get that feeling by simply doing the tradition and just coming from beneath you know. It’s valuable but… Well, it’s like falling in love for the first time. Didn’t know about other feeling in the world like that. Ever! You can argue with me but I’m sorry the first time that you realize you’re in love it’s like boom! And it’s the same thing with music. Again, yes, we have these kind of traditionalists which is fantastic and it feels wonderful but it doesn’t feel like the first time; nothing like the first time…

“In the '50s the world was dumb. In the '60s we were hip. In the '70s and '80s we tried to figure out what that meant. In the '90s we're back to the '50s, so you haven't missed anything." That’s Richie Havens. Where do you think you are in the beginning of a new millennium?

It’s hard to say right now because right now we’re in a wonderful period of possibilities with no reality. It’s just everything is possible because Barack is not president yet. So, he says all these wonderful things and we’re all like really excited about what he’s saying. If he is elected the president and he has to deal with the reality of making these things reality it’s going to be difficult but right now it’s all about possibilities.

I understand that when Herbie Hancock talks about limitless possibilities in music he means not only the sonic reality but the way you handle your life as well. What do you do to stay creative and be open to those very possibilities taking into consideration your completely hectic schedule?

For me, you know, I want to squeeze every job out of my life that I can. I don’t want to waste any time so for me every moment is an opportunity to do something new. This is the way I am and I think part of the way I am is because of the people that I looked up to when I was coming up. It’s Herbie Hancock, you know. It’s Miles Davis. These were the guys I watched and talked to. Miles was always on. Herbie is always on. With Herbie you never feel like there’s any limits.  The guy won the record of the year in the USA at the last Grammy’s last year. Not jazz record of the year but the record of the year! Only Herbie can do that because his spirit is so strong and open that he kind of makes these things happen. He’s a magical guy! As for me, I try to focus on what you think can be and ignore everything else. When I was young, I come from the working class New York, and used to tell people I wanna be a musician they laughed. Musician or basketball player, you know what I mean, - this is every young guy’s dream in my neighborhood. But I loved music so much that I didn’t want to hear it. They said,- Marcus be a musician is almost impossible but I didn’t hear it. I was so focused on it that I didn’t even notice. I was just like- this is possible, I know it. I had a sound in my head, a Marcus Miller sound, and I always kept that sound in my head. When I hear the recordings of myself when I was 17 or 18 years old, it sounds horrible, very bad but I didn’t know it then because all I heard was the sound in my head. I didn’t realize that I was playing so badly because I was so focused on that sound in my head. And eventually, year after year what I really sounded like came closer and closer to the sound in my head.

You  had put your own recording on hold after a couple albums in the early 1980s, because, as you put it then, you “didn't have enough of a sense of who I was. I was so good at being a chameleon for everybody”.  When does the moment strike when a talented musician says: hey, it’s me!

It’s different for each musician. There are some musicians who are twenty years old and they have a distinct personality and that’s all they are and that’s all they can do. And they do that from the beginning of their lives. I didn’t know Thelonius Monk when he was twenty but something tells me he sounded like Thelonius Monk when he was twenty years old and he didn’t go through kind of that period of being a chameleon. For other people like myself, at first you just take whatever opportunity is available, and in New York as a young musician the opportunity presented itself to be a studio guy and go from one situation to another. That’s what was available for me and you take what’s available. It was great for me because I ended up in all those different situations and I played all these different styles of music at very high level but in my head I always said, - one day I want to discover myself. And for me it took a long time. I tried to do couple of albums early on but I felt like I didn’t have my own personality and I stopped. So I went and worked for people like David Sanborn, Luther Vandrose and Miles Davis. After Miles died I said if I don’t have my sound now I’ll never get it so I have to start making my own records again and I did. I think that working with Miles really helped me to find myself he gave me so much freedom and when you work with Miles Davis you don’t want to copy anybody else. It is Miles Davis and this is your perfect opportunity   to do something significant and something distinctive. So when I was with him I was like no, I’ve heard that before, no I’ve heard that before too, and then ah, never heard that before. This was my mentality when I worked with him and he really pushed me. It was not because Miles told me to do something but just because it was Miles so I wanted to do like this you know. Different ways of playing harmony, different ways of doing rhythm and once Miles died I tried to continuing to develop it and making it into my own sound.

What does the word “spiritual” mean to you?  I’m asking this because I’ve noticed that some musicians are often reluctant to be more articulate about what they are doing rather preferring to credit the supernatural forces and spirituality in general…

For me it’s the tools first; technique, harmony, melody, rhythm; just the basic tools. And I try to put them together in an interesting way something that hasn’t been done before. Once I get it almost right then I look for the inspiration and make it something much better then it was before. Sometimes it happens sometimes it stays just tools. But lots of times once you put that energy it may… It’s like going on stage. We’ve been practicing for three weeks and the rehearsal was going like not very good but it’s going to be totally different when we play live. We know it. When we play for the people, when we get our spirits connected it can be totally different. So all we do is work on the notes and it’s not always exciting during the rehearsals, just working on notes make sure we put the things together and then we get to the stage and wait for everything to come together. So it’s two elements, two sides. Some people just try to rely on spirit but you have to do your part too. God says you have the responsibility too. Don’t ask me to do everything. I’ll give you enough and then it’s going to be up to you.

You once said that if you ever get bored while on tour it is your fault for you fail to find anything to play to inspire yourself and your band members. What are the indicators that you are bored, how and why does it happen and what is a springboard to you during the down periods?

Because we do a lot of improvisation in our concerts every once in a while we get inspired and we find something that we’ve never found before and for the next three concerts you don’t want to let it go. You wanna try to make it happen again the same way. It never happens! It never happens again in the same way. It’s the audience, it’s the sound in the room, it’s the way the musicians feel, it’s the food you ate the night before, and it all comes together. I’ll spend maybe three or four concerts trying to make it happen again and eventually I’m just disappointed and I let it go and open myself up to another possibility to some other fantastic possibility. I have to keep reminding myself that night to night you have to stay open.

Your music is appreciated on many levels but public is public and it often tends to cling to familiar things so in what cases do you try to implement untraditional thoughts to challenge the conception of your fans?

Every night. The way I do it is that I sat up a framework that people can recognize. It’s like oh, I know this melody! I’m gonna enjoy this! A normal transaction.  And then halfway through the song they go,- this is not how I remember this song ‘cause we opened it up. We explore it. And then I bring it back to the melody something that you can recognize again. I think that the best music has that balance of the expected and the unexpected. There’s music that’s completely unexpected and you have to experience it without participating because you don’t know what to anticipate. On the other side there’s the music where you know everything that’s going to happen and you’re singing the words and you’re dancing because it’s just you are part of it which is the way I like to do. I give you the stuff that you can hold on to, I give you the melodies that you recognize, but I also challenge you to show you some other possibilities.  

In the age when all the sounds of the universe are considered music (and we see musicians trying to record and incorporate all kinds of weird sounds into their work), what are the challenges for those who try to create music using conventional instruments?

You really have to stay open and it’s very difficult. You have to stay open but you also have to have your own taste. I know lots of musicians who in order to be hip they just go for anything contemporary. Like I enjoy any DJ music or something… But with DJ music or any other kind of contemporary music there’s good and bad too. It means that you have to listen to enough of that music to be able to say what part of it you like or what part of it you reject. Take what you like and try to incorporate it in your music.

This is a famous Arnold Shoenberg anecdote: once when working with a student he pointed at the eraser on his pencil and said: “this end is more important that the other”. How important is an eraser to you as a composer and a performing artist? 

You don’t want to write all the notes. You go for the good ones and you have to decide which are the most important. People often say that DJ’s are not musicians. They are just duplicating what already have happened what they are offering to you is their taste. What I think is good and what I think is not good. Young people are successful at offering and a lot of musicians they have amazing technique and you can tell that they can play anything they want but they don’t know what to leave out. They don’t use an eraser and I think it’s very important. On the other side you have somebody like Ahmad Jamal or Miles Davis who have a sense of I have whatever I can but I don’t want to. I just want to play the good stuff. I just want to play the stuff that makes people feel something and this is really the ultimate level of musicianship. I can play it all, I can play everything, I can play everything, but I won’t. I’ll only play the right stuff. That’s a top level and not many musicians, even very famous musicians, can reach this level.

Do you still close your eyes to find melodies or have you bumped into something that’s new?

No, I still close my eyes, yeah… Because I’m working with sound so if you keep your eyes open it’s such an intense information, with the light, vision… You close your eyes and it opens up.  If you want to see with your eyes closed you have to listen more carefully…

This is going to be your first appearance in Georgia. What are your expectations?

Judging from what I’ve seen in only few hours I’ve been here I just want to get on the stage. It’ll be so much easier for me to talk to you with my bass, with my band than with words. I can explain so much more to you and I can understand so much from the audience, by their reaction, by interaction. So I’m very excited to get on the stage.