:: Béla Fleck and The Flecktones :: Paramount Theatre :: February 12 ::
By Jonathan Keller
Béla Anton Leoš Fleck is one of those gifted musicians who would have been a virtuoso of any instrument he would have chosen to play. Named after Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and Czech composers Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček, Fleck has created his own musical legacy through his solo work, the bluegrass band New Grass Revival and most notably Béla Fleck and The Flecktones. Along the way, Fleck happened to completely revolutionize his instrument of choice, the banjo.
Fleck, who has been nominated in more Grammy categories than any other artist in history, is very serious when it comes to music but takes critical success in stride, as he explained in a recent interview with The Marquee.
Having released their twelfth album, The Hidden Land, late last year, Fleck and his band, The Flecktones, will be coming through Denver in support of this newest Grammy-nominated album. “You know, the Grammy’s are fun and all, but in all honesty I don’t believe most people who vote for the Grammy’s have even heard our record,” Fleck said laughing. “It is more about how you are perceived by the industry than what you have actually put on to tape.”
Fleck has spent his life changing the way people perceive the banjo. Having grown up in New York, he first became enamored with the instrument after hearing the theme song of the television show The Beverly Hillbillies as a youngster. The theme song, which was played by Earl Scruggs, literally changed Fleck’s life.
“I know some people could be drawn away from the initial sound of the banjo and I could have been one of them having grown up in New York, but it just struck a chord in me,” Fleck said.
Fleck had the modest beginnings of any classically trained musician, attending New York City’s High School of Music & Arts. Even though his grandfather had bought him a banjo when he was 15 years old, Fleck tested into the school on guitar, playing The Beatles’ song “Dear Prudence.” He said it was the one song he could fingerpick well. However, the school didn’t offer guitar or banjo as primary instruments, so Fleck reluctantly opted to play the French horn and study voice instead.
“My Mom wouldn’t buy me one (a French horn) until she knew I was serious about it either,” he explained. “I tried playing the thing and I couldn’t even play an F on it. So I did some singing too. I sang as a tenor, which was out of my range, but the main influence of the school was being around so many great artistic people. I did most of my music outside of school with friends and other classmates. I was playing banjo quite a lot, but most of it was outside of school in various projects and such.”
After graduation Fleck moved to Boston, where he continued his banjo study, eventually releasing his first album, Crossing The Tracks, in 1979.
By 1981 Fleck was asked by Sam Bush to join New Grass Revival. He did join and spent the next nine years with the progressive bluegrass band, recording five albums. During that time Fleck still continued to craft solo projects and fill guest spots on other musician’s albums, all the while still having a unique vision to create his own band. As fate would have it, his next band, Béla Fleck and The Flecktones, would be seeded by a telephone conversation with bassist Victor Wooten.
“He played the bass over the phone and I was blown away,” Fleck said. “At the time, though, I was thinking about starting a band. I had so many ups and downs with starting my own band and I had decided to stay with New Grass Revival, which I loved. But I think what sealed the deal was Victor and I finally got together and played. My brain started ticking after we played and a whole world of ideas starting popping into my head.”
Rounding out the group was Victor’s brother, Roy “Future Man” Wooten, who plays synthesizer-based percussion and harmonica player Howard Levy. Levy eventually left the group in 1992 and saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined in 1998 with the album Left of Cool. This has been the line-up that has reached more than 500,000 fans a year on tour for the last six years and is also featured on their latest release, The Hidden Land. The album is a step forward for the group as it draws much more structure from classical and jazz elements than previous albums.
“I knew more about what I wanted the record not to be than what I wanted it to be,” Fleck said. “I really wanted to move away from things that are catchy and poppy. For me, the record had to have more depth and move us forward as band. Rather than having blistering solos, for example, I really wanted to go after melody and harmony. I wanted to create a complicated piece of music that would challenge the listener.”
The Hidden Land beautifully showcases each band member’s uncanny musical ability while still conveying the live energy the band is known for in its concerts.
:: Béla Fleck and The Flecktones ::
:: Paramount Theatre :: February 12 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
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• Bruce Hornsby
• Jaco Pastorius