Here comes SummerFest, with multi-Grammy winner Marcus Miller
If you go …
What: Vail SummerFest.
When: 4-8 p.m. Friday, June 24.
Where: Mountain Plaza, Vail Village.
Cost: Admission is free.
More information: For more information, including a complete list of participating vendors, visit http://www.vailjazz.org/summerfest.
There is no language barrier involved in Marcus Miller’s music. His message of joy is universal and abundantly clear.
“There’s no word barrier. There’s no language barrier. We play emotions,” Miller said in a recent interview with Jazz Echo. “They’re emotions that everybody feels, no matter where they’re from. So if we get that joyful thing going, it doesn’t matter if we’re in Japan, in Bulgaria, in Rio, in Louisiana, in the Caribbean. … It’s like, they feel it. They feel it.”
The multi-instrumentalist brings this musical language to Vail for the first time for a free, family-friendly outdoor performance at 6:30 p.m. Friday, near Gondola One in Vail Village as part of the first-ever Vail SummerFest.
Miller is most known for his sizzling electric bass and, since launching his career in the 1970s playing in New York City clubs as a teenager, has recorded with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jay Z. He was one of Miles Davis’ last collaborators and has won two Grammy awards (1992 Best R&B Song and 2001 Best Contemporary Jazz Album). The man has bass strings and a guitar named after him.
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He has had such obvious success spreading good energy across the globe that in 2013, UNESCO appointed him one of its ambassador Artists for Peace (an honor shared by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Celine Dion). Miller’s focus is the Slave Route Project, connecting the history of music and slavery around the world. It is this that inspired his latest studio album, 2015’s “Afrodeezia,” which was nominated for a Grammy.
“The goal is to raise awareness about slavery,” Miller said. “The story gets cloudy for young people. Young people don’t really know what happened. The story starts in Africa. I went there. I got really intrigued by the music, the music and the connection. I’d hear something in Mali that sounded like the blues in Louisiana. I’d hear something in Cameroon that reminded me of something I’d heard in Brazil.
“I realized that this music has traveled through this route of slavery. I decided to collaborate with musicians from different points on this route.”
The result is a record rich with upbeat drums, soulful keyboards, horns rising into a wall of sound and, of course, Miller’s blurred-finger bass lines. In live performances, the high-energy slapping and funk naturally lead to a dance party, inspiring a wave of connection that begins on stage.
Miller recounted a recent experience performing in Morocco at a festival celebrating Gnawa music. During a jam session with Gnawa musicians, Miller was nearly touching foreheads with a local artist enthusiastically playing a Gimbri — a three-stringed, primitive-looking instrument carved from a log and covered on one side with camel skin.
“I was face to face, this close, with this Moroccan musician playing his Gimbri. He’s just slapping the thing, very rhythmic, and it made me realize, this is the ancestor of every instrument I play,” Miller said. “I became fascinated with the connection between Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Calypso. … It has the same rhythm. The music has so much joy.”
Flutist Nelson Rangell will kick off the music at Vail SummerFest at 4 p.m. Rangell, who also plays the saxophone, has performed alongside jazz greats such as Jimmy Haslip, Eric Gale and David Sanborn.
Mountain Plaza comes alive all afternoon and evening with food and drink tents, plus an activities and event expo highlighting all that Vail has to offer for the summer, including children’s activities and fly-fishing demonstrations.
The town of Vail and The Contemporary Jazz Cruise are co-sponsors of the event. For more information, visit http://www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.