Smitty: Yeah, I haven’t heard that one. I look forward to hearing it, yeah.
MM: Yeah, it’s really nice, very nice. It’s called Cannon Reloaded or something like that. It has myself on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Terence Blanchard on trumpet, and George Duke on keyboards, so it’s ridiculous.
Smitty: Yeah, that is ridiculous, man. Well, we certainly look forward to that one. Hey, man, talk to me about the bass clarinet. You are known around the world for the four-string Fender and I’ve seen you with the bass clarinet, but I haven’t been able to talk to you about it. Every time we see each other we’re running in another direction or we’re talking about something else.
MM: Right, right.
Smitty: Man, talk to me about how you got into the bass clarinet.
MM: Well, you know, my first serious instrument at about ten years old was the regular clarinet. You know, they offered it in school in New York, and I played it and stayed with it. I picked up the bass a few years later, but they didn’t teach bass in school at the time, so in order for me to get a good music education, I stayed with the clarinet all the way through college and was pretty serious about it, but that bass just kinda took over, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, man.
MM: And I saw a lot more opportunities for myself as a bassist than I did as a clarinetist, so I eventually stopped playing the clarinet, and then I was working with Miles [Davis], it was like the 80s, and I was talking to my wife and I was threatening “You know, I’m gonna pick up the clarinet again, maybe not just a clarinet, I’m gonna get a bass clarinet, something cool and sexy, you know?” And she gave me one as a present that Christmas. And I honked and squawked on it all Christmas morning, you know, and probably ruined everybody else’s Christmas, but I had a good time, you know?
MM: But I began to get serious about it, man, and it was such a nice thing for me because not that many people play that instrument. It has a very unique sound, it’s very difficult to play, so a lotta horn players shy away from the bass clarinet, but for me it’s worth the work because the sound is so beautiful.
Smitty: It is, man.
MM: You know, so it’s become like my other voice besides the bass.
Smitty: Yeah, it’s got a sweet sound and it thumps hard.
MM: Oh, yeah, yeah, and you can go low and really vibrate people’s bones, you know, or go really high like a regular clarinet as well, so I really like the range of it too.
Smitty: Yeah, I like that thumpin’ sound, man. It’s beautiful.
Smitty: Marcus, let’s talk about something that is serious. To me, a lotta musicians as well as aspiring musicians mention you as a bassist. You are such a measuring stick for so many artists and aspiring artists, but I get a lot of requests or people asking me about their son or their daughter that’s picked up the bass and they say “What advice do you give me?”
Smitty: And I try to be generic and not too overbearing in giving advice.
Smitty: But coming from the master, what advice do you give to kids out there, regardless of the instrument, but especially the bass, in terms of if this is something they really wanna do, what is some of the most important information or advice that you would give for parents as well as students of the music?
MM: Well, the first thing I would say is that if you’re a parent, if you can get your kid a good teacher at least at the beginning so that they don’t develop any really bad habits, that’s important.
Smitty: Yeah, true that.
MM: Like when I first started, I didn’t have a teacher, so I held the bass so that my wrists were bent at very extreme angles and ended up developing a little bit of carpal tunnel, you know what I mean?
MM: So I had to re-learn how to hold the bass. I held it so it looked cool. That’s all I was concerned about, you know? But you gotta hold it so that your wrists aren’t bent, that kind of thing, so getting a good teacher at the beginning is nice, but to the musicians I would say, man, keep your ears open, learn anything that you hear that’s music that you like, try to figure it out on your bass, you know, figure out how all the music works together, listen to see if you can hear the guitar part, listen to see if you can hear the drums, if you can hear the bass line, if you can hear all the different parts so you know how the music comes together so that you then can know how the bass works and what you need to be putting in there.
Because a lotta guys can play well but they don’t really know what to do when they’re playing with other people. They don’t know what makes music sound good. So try to listen as much as you can and look out for every opportunity. Some opportunities, they don’t pay you any money, but they’re valuable opportunities anyway, so just try to play in as many different situations as you can so you can develop that experience which should one day will come in handy.
Smitty: So being ready and being a good listener, man.
MM: Oh yeah.
Smitty: That’s excellent advice, yeah.
MM: Yeah, a lotta guys get focused on playing, which is good. You gotta do that, but you also have to listen and you also have to look for opportunities and opportunity doesn’t always mean just making money. Sometimes, you know, shoot, man, when I was coming up in New York, I played in salsa bands, African bands, I played in funk bands, straight ahead traditional jazz bands, man. I played Jewish bar mitzvahs, I played everything.
MM: And I was in college and I was orchestrating for strings, and I’m telling you, each one of those experiences, man, came to be very useful later on in my life, you know? Even the bar mitzvah stuff, man. (Laughs.)
Smitty: How ‘bout that?
MM: I was scoring movies, man, I need a little Jewish sound, man, I got it. I got it covered.
MM: Or I end up on this jazz cruise, man, and have to play with Herbie Hancock or McCoy Tyner, I got it covered, I’m ready, because I’ve got a wide range of experiences to draw from, so I think that’s very important.
Smitty: Excellent, man. That’s excellent advice. And I must say, coming from you, man, that carries a lotta weight, my friend.
MM: (Laughs.) All right.