My father plays piano and organ (mainly in church) so as a child I was around music a lot and always fooling around on the piano. He gave me a great start in understanding harmony and had me singing in the choir and reading the church music when I was a teenager. At the age of 8 I started recorder and at ten the clarinet. These instruments were both offered at the public schools I attended.
I went to the High School of Music and Art which is now called the Laguardia School of Performing Arts. It's a magnet school in the NYC area. Kids from all over the city audition to get in. The school gives concentration courses in music, art, and dance. Junior high band, high school band, orchestra, and music theory, college orchestra and composition. My major instrument was clarinet. I also studied clarinet privately with an instructor named David Glazer.
At Queens College in NY, I continued orchestral clarinet and also took advance music theory and compostition courses, majoring in music education. I continued on clarinet there, and took more advanced theory and composition courses. I also participated in the jazz ensemble there. The jazz band at Queens was under the direction of Bud Johnson.
I supplemented my formal education with extensive hanging out at various music spots around NY.
On my own, along with my neighborhood friends, I joined a dance band and took up bass guitar. It was an instrument I felt was integral to funky music and the one that seemed most interesting to me.
When I was thirteen, fourteen, I would buy the sheet music to all the popular songs and want to play them. My pops would show me shortcuts to playing the songs. He taught me how to just read the guitar chord symbols and make up my own accompaniment instead of laboring to decipher the written accompaniment. Since I already knew the melodies of the songs (O'Jays, Stylistics, etc) from listening to the records, all I had to do was read the chord changes and I was in business. I didn't learn to read piano music that well, but I learned a lot about chord changes, voicings, and harmony.
At the same time, I was playing bass in some funk bands (and, later, jazz bands) in my neighborhood. This education was just as valuable as my school education. This was where I learned about funk and grooves and relating to people with music.
During college I began to get a lot of work as a musician in NY on bass. After four years I decided to discontinue at Queens College and work full time. (This was a big decision - my family really values education, but after four years I was relatively sure my success was not temporary. I felt I needed to eliminate something in order to keep my health and sanity!!)
So that's the extent of my music education. I have to say I learned at least as much in the street with my bass as I did in the schools with my clarinet but I value both.
In the late seventies and the eighties, NY studio musicians made their living by playing on records, TV commercials (jingles), and movies. As a studio musician, 80% of the music I had to play was written out. Dave Grusin, Bill Eaton (arranger for Grover Washington Jr. and Ralph MacDonald), Bob James, Arif Mardin, Leon Pendarvis (arranger for Roberta Flack, Saturday Night Live, countless jingles) - they all wrote out very detailed bass parts for me to play.
There weren't that many bassists in NY at that time who read music that well. Bass was usually learned in the street, not in school, so most bassists had a hard time with charts. Will Lee, Anthony Jackson, Neil Jason, and Francisco Centeno were all great readers and that's one of the main reasons that they worked so much. I know from talking to Anthony Jackson that he prided himself, like I did, on being able to walk into a session, sit down, play the music on sight, and leave! For Anthony, the more complicated the part, the more he enjoyed it!
I learned to read music by studying the clarinet from age ten through college. I learned clarinet by the traditional method which involves reading music all the time. In high school we were playing pieces by Charles Ives and Stravinsky, where the clarinets were assigned violin parts and the time signatures changed every two bars. For me most bass parts were not that difficult compared to that stuff.
I challenged myself by not only playing the notes correctly, but by trying to make it sound as if I'd been playing that particular part for years (instead of for just minutes). I tried to incorporate nuances into the parts that would make them sound really natural. This was important to me because a lot of the bass lines were written by arrangers who weren't bass players, so sometimes I'd come across lines that were strange to perform on bass. I really tried to make everything sound easy.
Leon Pendarvis used to write out very detailed parts for his jingles. He used to get a kick out of transcribing something he'd heard you play on a record and writing it out for you to play on his jingle! Imagine how I felt when I realized that this difficult part I was reading was actually nothing but one of my own licks!!
Sometimes he'd write out parts for you in another bassists' style. He was always giving me parts that required a pick with a flanger effect, which is Anthony Jacksons trademark. I remember having to carry a pick and a flanger around in my gig bag just in case I wound up on a date that Pendarvis was arranging! (I wonder if he ever forced Anthony to play like me??)
On record dates sometimes I had to read parts. Especially when sequenced synth bass became popular. I got called a lot to double a sequenced bass part with electric bass. Of course there were other dates where they just played you the tune and you figured out what to play on your own.
After a few years I began to get called more and more to play in my own style without notated music ...
- MARCUS MILLER -
Thursday 27 June 2013 20h30
LLING MUSIC ET BERNARD DULAU PRODUCTIONS
PRESENTENT EN ACCORD AVEC L'OLYMPIA