Bela Fleck Interview
The year was 1991. I happened to be at Virginia Beach visiting some friends and accidently came across a group of musicians performing a fusion of bluegrass, jazz on the beach. Wow, I said to myself, what a treat. These guys were just incredible, and the musical arrangements were fresh and innovative. I went closer to the small stage and found out who they were.
The front man was Bela Fleck and he was an outstanding virtuoso on the Banjo, flanked by stellar bassist Victor Wooten, and his brother Future Man on a hybrid drum-guitar instrument (his invention), that I had never seen before. And man, this harmonica/keyboard player Howard Levy was just off the hook.
As years have passed by, this outfit changed personnel but the music has always evolved. Paul McCandless on oboe who have always been a favorite of mine with Oregon shared the stage for a few years when Howard Levy left the band to pursue other opportunities. And now the outstanding Jeff Coffin on sax has been a part of the core group for a quite a number of years.
Check out Bela on Soulgrass with Bill Evans, Vinnie Colaiuta, Bruce Hornsby, Jerry Douglas, John Scofield among others.
AL: You took a year off from Flecktones, performing in various incarnations. Musically what were your highlights?
BF: It’s been a great year creativly for me, probably the most intense I’ve had. Going to Africa was the most startling and exciting, playing with Jean-Luc and Stanley was amazing, playing with Bryan Sutton and Casey Dreissen in my acoustic trio was like coming home, playing and writing with Edgar and Zakir was like a new door opening, and finishing the Flecktones next CD was very satisfying- this is an album we will be very proud of.
AL: Flecktones is back next year , do you think you guys are musically going somewhere that you have not been yet or is it a continuation from where you left off?
BF: We finished up by pushing ourselves to the next point as hard as we could till the time ran out. So we’ll be picking up right there when we start in a few months. We have the album as a guidline to remember where we were.
AL: Rumors are that you and Edgar Meyer could be writing a triple concerto and performing with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, can you give us some insight?
BF: Yes, we are.
AL: This record with Bill Evans, Vinnie sounds great. How did that develop?
BF: Bill got in touch and told me what he was up too. I liked the project and him, and got pretty deep into it. It was a blast.
AL: You have been involved with with bluegrass, jazz, and in lack of a better word , Fusion music for a while. How do you think an instrument like banjo which has no real sustain sound fits in with the various musical idioms?
BF: I think the banjo has it’s special qualities.Plus when you play a bunch of notes in a row, the illusion of sustain can be acheived. The more different each instrument is, the more complete the music becomes.
AL: Have you ever thought about collaborating with mandolin U.Shrinivas who has been performing with Remember Shakti/John McLaughlin?
BF: I enjoy his playing very much.
AL: Stanley Clarke mentioned that you have been studying John McLaughlin’s This is the Way I do it instruction DVD. What musical concepts from that has helped you in your musical journey and banjo playing in particular.
BF: It was interesting trying to play his musical examples on the banjo. They led me to rethink how I play fast groupings. Plus I have listened to John for a long time and it was nice to have him break down his concept in person. It all made a lot of sense to me.
AL: Thanks Bela and good luck to the Flecktones for 2006.