I recorded my first album for Warner Bros. in 1986, called Tutu, after Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The song “Full Nelson” is named for Nelson Mandela. At first we were going to call the album Perfect Way, but Tommy LiPuma, my new producer at Warner’s didn’t like the title, so they came up with Tutu, and I really like that. At first I didn’t care what they called it, but after I heard the name Tutu I said, yeah, that would work. That was the first album where I worked with Marcus Miller as much as I did. The album started with some music that George Duke, the piano player, sent to me. As it turned out, we didn’t use George’s music on the album, but Marcus heard it and wrote something off it. Then I told Marcus to write something else. He did, but I didn’t like that, so it went back and forth like that for a while until we came up with something that we both liked.
When we recorded Tutu, we didn’t decide on any music in advance. The only thing we decided was what key a song was going to be in. Marcus wrote most of the music on Tutu, but I told him what I wanted, like ensemble here and four bars there. With Marcus I don’t have to do much because he knows what I like. He would just put down some tracks and I would come and put my trumpet voice over what they did. First, they programmed the drums on tape, the bass drum and then two or three other rhythms and then the keyboards.
Then Marcus brought in this guy named Jason Miles, who is a synthesizer programming genius. He started working with the music, and it kept happening like that. It just kept growing; it was a group effort. George Duke arranged a lot of music on Tutu. Then we brought in all the other musicians, like Adam Holzman on synthesizer, Steve Reid on percussion, Omar Hakim on drums and percussions, Bernard Wright on synthesizers, Paulino da Costa on some percussion, Michael Urbaniak on electric violin, me on trumpet, and Marcus Miller on bass guitar and everything else.
I have found that taking my working band into the studio is too much trouble these days. The band might not feel good that day at the recording session, or at least some people in the band might not. So you’ve got to deal with that. And if one or two musicians don’t feel good that day, then they throw everybody else off. Or, they might not feel like playing the style you want or need for the record you’re doing and that might cause problems. Music to me is all about styles, and if somebody can’t do what you ask for and need, then they look at you all funny and feel bad and insecure. You’ve got to teach them what you want them to do, show them right there in the studio in front of everybody else, and a lot of musicians can’t take that kind of shit, so they get mad. That holds things up. Doing it the old way, recording like we used to do, is just too much trouble and takes too much time. Some people say they miss that spontaneity and spark that comes out of recording with a band right there in the studio. Maybe that’s true; I don’t know. All I know is that the new recording technology makes it easier to do it the way we have been doing it. If a musician is really professional he will give you what you want in terms of performance in the studio by playing off and against the band that’s already down on tape. I mean the mother*****er can hear what is being played, can’t he? And that’s important in music ensemble playing; hearing what everyone else is doing and playing off or against that.
It’s a matter of style, and what you and your producers want to hear on record. Tommy LiPuma’s a great producer for the kind of things he wants to hear on a record. But I like raw shit, live, raunchy, get down, get back in the alley shit, and that isn’t really what he likes or understands. Rather than get myself, the working band, and Tommy into all kinds of hassles by trying to bring my working band into the studio to record music that I might like, but Tommy doesn’t, we do it this way, laying down tracks on tape, with me and Marcus and whoever we decide we need to do an album. I use mostly Marcus on all instruments, because that mother****er can play almost anything: guitar, bass, saxophone, piano, and then he does some of the synthesizer programming with Jason Miles. Marcus has such concentration in the studio, man, it’s scary. That mother****er’s really one of the most focused people I have ever known. He don’t miss nothing and he can work all day and night without losing focus. Makes everybody else work their asses off, too. And he’s having a good time while he’s working, laughing at your stories and jokes, keeping everybody loose. But he’s getting the record done.
Marcus always brings out the funny guy in me. In the studio we make a great team, you know. Marcus is so hip and into the music that he even walks in tempo, ain’t never out of tempo in whatever he does. So now I don’t mind going into the studio so much because I know I’m going to be in there with people who know how to take care of business.
Prince wanted to put a song on Tutu, even wrote a song for it, but when we sent him the tape and he heard what was on there, he didn’t think his tune fit. Prince has high musical standards, like me. So, he just pulled his song meant for the album until we can do something else later. Prince also records for Warner Bros. and it was through people over there that I first found out that he loved my music and considered me one of his musical heroes. I was happy and honoured that he looked at me in that way.