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Fretless Questions: Marcus Miller
FB: How long have you been playing fretless bass?
Marcus Miller: I got my first fretless bass at age 17. It was a Kramer with a metal neck and a forked headstock. Kramer was nice enough to give it to me when I was in Lenny White’s fusion band.
FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Marcus Miller: I had begun to play a lot of straight ahead jazz and wanted an instrument that sounded closer to an acoustic bass. I had heard Jaco on “Speak Like A Child” on his first album. There were some tones there that really sounded like an upright. I thought it would be nice to try.
FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Marcus Miller: I learned by trial and error. I fooled around until things started sounding right. I took it very seriously. There was a good six to nine months when I didn’t play my fretted bass at all. Most of my boys were, like, “Man put that thing away and pull out ‘The Destroyer’ (my fretted 77 Jazz Bass)!”. But I knew that playing fretless would give me another dimension. After a while, they started calling me for gigs and telling me to remember the to bring fretless too!
FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences or favorite players?
Marcus Miller: Jaco, Percy Jones. After that it was upright players like Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and Sam Jones. I enjoyed watching Fernando Saunders when he would play in NY (my hometown). I also plugged into singers like Stevie Wonder for vibrato and phrasing. I think Jaco’s my favorite.
FB: Do you play upright, electric, or both? Which do you prefer?
Marcus Miller: I play acoustic bass occasionally but I’m basically a bass guitarist.
FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it? Have you had or played others?
Marcus Miller: I don’t know where that Kramer is now! I like my first Fodera four string because that’s the one I settled in on. I played that on a lot of recordings. I have a couple of newer Fodera 5’s that I like and I just got a beautiful old Jazz Bass so we’ll see where I end up! I have 3 Foderas, 2 Fender Jazzes, a Modulus 6 string (which is sweet!), a Sadowsky, and a Marco acoustic bass guitar. In the past, I”ve owned a Kramer, a couple more Jazzes, and a Leduc.
FB: What types of strings and fingerboards do you prefer?
Marcus Miller: I like round wound strings and a softer wood neck, like ebony or rosewood. I tried a maple neck once but it was kind of hard sounding.
FB: What playing styles do you use?
Marcus Miller: I use fingers. Sometimes for jazz, I’ll mute with my palm and play with my thumb. Every once in awhile I’ll slap although I don’t love that sound. I’ll pull out a pick when the part is in a very low register and I want some extra definition. I did that on Wayne Shorter’s “Highlife” and it worked well.
FB: What bands or projects feature you playing fretless bass?
Marcus Miller: Miles, Sanborn. McCoy Tyner’s Double Trios, Al Jarreau. My own albums. A bunch of other things.
FB: Do you have a favorite song you played fretless bass on or some notable songs or experiences?
Marcus Miller: I like Miles’ “Tutu”. I dubbed the fretless over the lower fretted bass line. It’s pretty cool. I wrote “Tutu”. I like the fretless part on that. I like Sophisticated Lady on my latest, Silver Rain.
FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Marcus Miller: I’m not sure other than you can tell it’s me!
FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Marcus Miller: Yes, I’m playing pretty steadily. Not as much as my fretted bass but I get my licks in on fretless.
FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Marcus Miller: Practice in the dark and develop your ear!
FB: Do you have websites or social media sites you would like to share?
Marcus Miller: www.marcusmiller.com and www.myspace.com/marcusmillerband
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