In Musik

Frank Alkenbrecher joined the 5-day Smooth Jazz Cruise in Miami, Florida. It was a chance to hear some wonderful Jazz but also to chat to some of the top musicians performing on the cruise in the Caribbean. In the artists’ own words, here are his notes from chatting with two of them:

MARCUS MILLER – “Little Things That Made Me Think”

I had a number of role models for playing bass. My first role model was James Jamerson, even though I did not know who he was!

Back in those days Motown did not print the name of the musicians on the album. But I was listening to Motown like everybody else in the early Seventies.

I was listening to all the funk and soul bass players. I discovered Larry Graham, the bass player of Sly and the Family Stone – he was incredible, in the way he was “dumping” the bass – we all learned how to do that!”

Then I was listening to Stanley Clarke. And Jaco Pastorius, I did a tribute to Jaco at the Cruise.

Miles Davis had a tremendous influence on my career. Musically, he said little things which made me think, little things which sounded simple when he said them.

ARLINGTON JONES – “We are fascinated about the club scene in Berlin”

I began piano studies in classical music but added jazz while I was in college. He received a master’s degree from Southwest Texas State University in music, composition, arranging, performance, theory, and jazz studies.

My main influences are all the early piano players such as Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington. I connected early with Oscar Peterson. My favorite trio was the one with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.

I modelled myself after Duke Ellington. He called himself an American composer and musician. He did so many different things, like playing solo piano, trio, big band, and all the big works. The sacred concerts he wrote impressed me. I was in college, and I was thinking, why didn’t anybody tell me about this before?

I write a lot of different things, too. I have written choral music, symphonic music, and music for my band. For me it was always more than just performing as a trio.

But I also want to mention Erroll Garner and Mary Lou Williams – they would also be on my list of the great pianists. I learned that Erroll was self-taught, and I thought that he had such a groove of playing! His style was different than Oscar. He had magnificent rhythm, and not the most traditional style, but a lot of things I could also add to my playing. He was also great at playing block chords.

Mary Lou Williams was a bit like Duke Ellington, she had an interesting life. Guys like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker came to her house, sat with her, and heard her playing. She had a great level of respect. She was big into jazz masses. It was at the same time when I was studying Duke Ellington when I checked out her jazz masses. When I listened to them, they were like the ideas for my own music in my mind. She was very encouraging to me.

She had a lot of challenges, being both an Afro-American and a Female.

My father had jazz records from Ramsey Lewis at home. Ramsey was from Chicago, and our family lived in Chicago until I was three years old. Ramsey Lewis recorded a song called ‘Wade in the Water.’ I was familiar with that song because we played it in church. When I heard how Ramsey was playing it, I was hooked. This is what I wanted to do!

Later in my studies, I was doing some Art Tatum transcriptions – Art Tatum is the top.

You did some work with Jonathan Butler. What brought you together?

I am currently Jonathan Butler’s Music Director. We met through a mutual friend, Wayman Tisdale, NBA Superstar, and a tremendous bass player. He was searching for a core band and decided to get all the members of the band from Dallas away from Los Angeles. I was with Wayman until his passing in 2009 and did a tour which was named “Rendezvous All-Stars” with Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum and Brian Simpson.

I was the keyboard player and this was my first time working with Jonathan. I found out years later that Wayman told him to “Check out my keyboard player”, and he did. So, I ended up also working for Jonathan.

Wayman was always smiling. He was such a giving person, even with cancer, he was still smiling, and continued touring. You will always hear great things about him.

I recommend young musicians to practice, practice, practice. First: Practice, practice, practice. Commit to having a dedicated time to practice, 3, 4, 5 hours a day! Keep practicing as your life progresses and whatever level you are, do not feel bad about it! Even if you practice only 30 minutes every day, that is better than skipping days without practicing.

The second thing: Concentrate on the type of person you are! I choose the musicians for their talent and ability, but I also call musicians based on what kind of person they are. Can I depend on them? Do they show up on time? What are they going to bring to the band?

The person away from the music means a lot to me. Young people often miss that. They think they are a great player and that’s enough – it’s not. You need to take care of the kind of person you are away from the music! Good attributes that have nothing to do with playing music can also help bring you the job.

What can we expect from you in the next 2-3 years?

My wife and I wrote a jazz opera. It goes in line with my music career role model, Duke Ellington, and the desire to compose big works. We did only one performance that premiered on 20 December, 2023, and it was well attended. My wife and I produced everything for this opera, and we wrote everything. That was a big deal for us.

Our biggest idea is that we want to make Arlington, Texas into a destination for you to come to see us, and to see our performances like the opera or the jazz gospel cantata. I do have an album completed. We have not even announced it, but we are planning to release it this year.

I would love to come to Europe, we want to do more touring. We are fascinated about the club scene in Berlin – we must explore that!

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