The Man With The Golden Thumb

MARCUS MILLER’S M2 [3 DEUCES, 2001] finds the seasoned slapper doling out everything from 32nd-notes and swung sextuplets to laid-back fretless melodies and wholenotes on upright—all without ever resorting to “throwaway” notes or disturbing the groove.
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The following is an excerpt from BASS PLAYER Presents: Slap Masters, a special issue on newsstands for a limited time. It’s packed with tons of tips from intrepid thumpers like Marcus Miller, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, and more, and features transcriptions of more than 30 of the baddest bass licks ever slapped, thumped, plucked, or popped. Here’s a sneak peek!

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MARCUS MILLER’S M2 [3 DEUCES, 2001] finds the seasoned slapper doling out everything from 32nd-notes and swung sextuplets to laid-back fretless melodies and wholenotes on upright—all without ever resorting to “throwaway” notes or disturbing the groove. Example 1 contains two bars of the opening groove figure from “Power.”

“‘Power’” is built around the opening bass lick,” says Marcus. “Someone told me recently, ‘Whenever you play, you sound hungry.’ I always think of that when I play this tune because it has that hungry, New York-rooted sound.” Note the three-finger popped chord on beat one, the doublethumbed 32nd-note figure in beat two, and the accentuated, Larry Graham-style slides and walk-up at the end of bar 2. Says Marcus, “I was looking for a key that would give me a different slap sound than the usual E or A, and B worked out well—especially being able to drop down for the octave walk-ups.”

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Miller’s trademark Fender Jazz Bass is in full effect on the opening groove of “Cousin John” [Ex. 2], where he tunes his E string down a half-step to Eb. “That bass line came out of jamming with [drummer] Poogie Bell, who played an interesting Latin/Go-Go kind of beat,” says Marcus. “The chord changes recall what we were doing with Miles in the mid-’80s Amandla period. In bar 1 I play the last 16th of beats two, three, and four on a different string than the three preceding 16ths, so you have to hammer them strongly with your left hand to get the note to sound.”

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Examples 3a and 3b show “Nikki’s Groove,” also from M2. Example 3a contains the slapped breakdown melody at 0:07, rife with expressive inflections. “I needed a track with a bright sound and tonality to balance all the darker-sounding material,” offers Marcus. “The melody had been in my head for a long time, and I figured the only way to get it out was to record it and put it in someone else’s head!” At 1:59 [Ex. 3b], Miller turns up the rhythmic juice in his solo. He uses a cool, descending doublethumb run in bar 1 and brisk, boardscaling double-triplets in bar 3.

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Name Jeremy Kaplan Home base Worcester, MA Occupation Quality Engineer for a battery company (Boston Power) Gigs Jumbled Mess (original band), Drivin’ Rain (cover band), BFJ (praise band) Basses Marcus Miller Fender Jazz, Music Man Sterling 5, Fender Standard Jazz