Master of the ‘80s medley Martin Miller has leaned upon his convening powers once more to recruit fusion legato master and fellow Ibanez signature artist Tom Quayle to perform Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, arranged for guitar.
The performance, posted to Miller’s YouTube channel, features two guitars and nothing else. Miller is on his Ibanez MMN1 signature guitar. Quayle is on his 21st-century T-style Ibanez TQMS1 in Celeste Blue.
With just a little bit of grit when needed, their tones are on point, both players sending their electric guitar signal through Fractal amp modellers. Miller is using an FC-12 MkII foot controller – presumably with an Axe-Fx III – while Quayle is playing through an FM-9 amp modeller and multi-effects pedal. It sounds exquisite.
Miller and Quayle are regular collaborators, notably teaming up for a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing at Guitar Summit 2022. In 2018, they put on an epic run of Ibanez guitar clinics, playing 45 shows in 15 different countries. That’s a lot of time spent playing together, and their playing styles are ideally suited to adapting material like this.
Miller might insist that he is more rock than fusion yet he is nonetheless preternaturally disposed to blurring the boundaries between jazz, funk, soul and rock as he does here.
The duet is a change of pace from the Martin Miller Session Band treatment that stitches together the biggest hits of Toto, A-Ha, Tears For Fears and more into 25-minute epic jams, though the approach is similar.
Speaking to MusicRadar in March, Miller said that digging into material like that and adapting it for a full band is an education, and it has changed the way he approaches his own writing.
“Performing this kind of music is the greatest research and the greatest study,” said Miller. “When you immerse yourself in this music? When I put a medley together, I first of all spend a lot of time listening to an artist’s catalogue, then I listen to various versions of that same set of tunes, then I learn it on my instrument, and then play it with my band, and at the end of all of that I mix it, so I listen to all the different parts in isolation.
“That is just fantastic study material, and that informs my own music to such a large degree. I can’t imagine what my compositional skill would without that. I took so much away from that. Now, putting this stuff together, for an individual medley it is all about the pacing. How do you hold the attention for 25 minutes?”
On Billie Jean, both Quayle and Miller take turns to solo, and to handle the melody, with Miller adapting the vocal melody first, and then transitioning this into the first solo just after three minutes in. Quayle takes over a minute and a half later.
It speaks to how much musical information is carried in the original arrangement – and Jackson’s vocal – that Miller and Quayle can build out from that to this, expanding it without it ever not sounding like Billie Jean.
If you are brave enough to try this at home, and your chops are up to it, Miller has made the tablature available for this arrangement for five bucks.
If there’s one thing to heed to when executing it is to pay attention to your intonation. Miller’s is unimpeachable, and he advises us all that this can make the difference in performance and we don’t focus on it enough.
“I think us guitar players need to talk about this a lot more because never – either in my conservatory or my college years – has the topic of intonation been brought up,” said Miller. “Whenever I, for example, told my professor, ‘My intonation is a little off here.’ ‘What do you mean, the bending?’ No, no, no, the pressure of your hand and the position of your hand affects the intonation.
“The better the form of your left hand, the better your intonation will be. And you can tell. It doesn’t matter what instrument you give them, if someone is not a professional player, or is a player who is early on their discovery of the instrument, you can tell. They constantly sound out of tune. Then you hand that same instrument to a pro, and suddenly everything is in tune, and not just with the bends and the vibrato.”
Subscribe to Martin Miller on YouTube here. Miller’s solo album, Maze Of My Mind, is out now.