By Niki D’Andrea
Unless you’re a well-schooled jazz or R&B fan, Marcus Miller is probably the best bass player you’ve never heard of. The Grammy Award-winning Miller has played bass for Miles Davis, David Sanborn, and Luther Vandross, and also played bass and bass clarinet in a band called Legends, with Eric Clapton. He’s got his own signature bass (the Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass, available in 4- and 5-string versions) and is also one of the most in-demand R&B producers in the world, having co-produced/arranged most of Vandross’ albums from 1981 onward, as well as records by Al Jarreau, and The Crusaders.
As an artist leading his own band, Miller’s musical prowess is even more compelling than the incomparable session work he’s done for more than 30 years. In addition to mastering the bass guitar, Miller is also a proficient keyboardist, saxophonist, clarinetist, and singer, and artists from Corrine Bailey Rae and Keb “Mo” to Me’Shell NdegeOcello and Macy Gray have clamored to collaborate with him.
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Listening to Miller’s latest album, Marcus (Concord), it’s immediately apparent why the 48-year-old virtuoso is so celebrated among his esteemed musical peers. From the roiling, low-end, bumpin’ club-funk of opener “Blast” and an electrifying cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” to the bopping jazz burner “What Is Hip?” and the smooth, soulful seduction of “Lost Without You,” Marcus is a feelgood masterpiece.
In a live setting, Miller’s got a reputation for bringing down the house and doing multiple encores. His performance at the Rhythm Room on Tuesday, May 6, was no exception. The show was sold out, and concertgoers who arrived late had to hunt for parking and jockey for position inside the venue. Those in attendance were treated to an hour and a half-long show, filled with extemporaneous jams, blazing live renditions of songs from Miller’s new album, and some guest vocals from Jean Baylor (formerly of R&B duo Zhané, whose biggest hit was “Hey, Mr. DJ” in 1993), and topped off with two encores. Those who missed the show missed out, without a doubt.
Jean Baylor joins Marcus Miller's band on stage at the Rhythm Room.