Béla Fleck and the Flecktones' Bassist Victor Wooten on Stephen Hawking: "The Quality of His Voice Does Not Diminish Who He Can Be"
Since the early 1980s, Victor Wooten has been a sonic force, nurtured and tempered by his musical family --- four older brothers and parents, all supportive and all innovative musicians themselves. Better known for the rhythm section he shares with his brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten in the long-running progressive jazz fusion outfit Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Victor's been a solo recording artist for many years. This year, though, he embarked on his first tour in support of a pair of recently released albums.
Named Bass Player magazine's "Bass Player of the Year" three years in a row, Wooten has also been involved with the Chick Corea Elektric Band and SMV (with Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller), as well as lending session work with numerous artists.
Surrounded by a who's-who of the modern jazz scene; Krystal Peterson, JD Blair, Steve Bailey, Anthony Wellington, Dave Welsch, and Derico Watson, Wooten's tour is garnering accolades from the jazz world and from the fans who appreciate his innovative, honest and unrestrained approach to the instrument. Ever the true musician, Wooten will be holding a clinic at the Miami Lakes Sam Ash from 1 to 3 p.m. before melting some brains at the Culture Room this Friday.
New Times: I've often heard you, or rather read, that you had musical parents who weren't musicians.
Victor Wooten: Correct.
And what did you mean by that, supportive, really good record collections...
Well, yeah, it just really means that they understood music very well, a lot of times I'll say that they understood music better than musicians, in other words if a song comes on, most people who don't know anything about music don't have to ask questions before they dance or sing or before they enjoy, when a lot of the times, people who claim they know music if a song comes on questions arise, what's the key? What's the time signature, you know? We don't even know how to just play without asking questions the way a child who knows nothing can play air guitar does.
So my parents knew what good music was, they knew what we needed to listen to, they would take us to concerts, they knew sections of the music, what they were about, my mom's sister turned us on to music when we were kids that kinda got us in the right direction, or rather in the direction that we are in now playing music. So they knew a lot about music but not the theory behind or the names that we've given it but they understood it totally the same way a person a person who's grown up farming, though they might not know the PH level of the soil or all that stuff, but they know what the soil will do from day to day and from year to year. So my parents were that way about music and a lot of things even though they didn't play any instruments.
And all of you turned out musicians is that correct?
Absolutely, all five of us.
So they were fairly intuitive and got you guys in the right direction. Now let me ask you a question, given that all you guys are musicians I know that on the new album you just put out, you've got a lot of family members involved in that, which we'll get to in a second, first I would like to know how does it feel to you now with the Flecktones, not only to be part of that band, but to be a part of it with your brother, because you are going on what, your fourth decade that you're playing together?
Oh yeah! I mean, right now I'm on tour for the first time with my own band and it is the first time that I do not have one of my brothers with me.
You know, having a brother, at least one, is like having a piece of home with me when I'm out on the road. And now remember, I am the youngest of the five brothers so I've always grown up with their guidance, their tutelage and all of that, so when I have them on the road with me, there's a comfort level and a relaxation that I have because of them and I know that they have it under control even when I don't.
And so, this time, not having my brothers in a sense is like I'm having to be a grownup all of a sudden, and still I have other brothers, my longtime friends and band mates on tour with, JD Blair who I've toured with. It's similar, but not really since every time I've been on the road, I've had at least one of them with me including Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
So now you have the two new albums, Sword & Stone and Words & Tone, let's talk first about Sword, that's the one that is completely instrumental, correct?
Sword & Stone is instrumental, yes.
I would imagine that's the one that you worked on first and then afterwards, since I know the second album does not share all of the songs but the majority of them and they are set to vocals?
Yeah, there are fourteen tracks on each record and eleven of the tracks can be found on both records and I started recording with the intention of only doing a vocal CD but as I was recording these records, I would place a melody on in place of the vocals with another instrument, usually bass because that is what I play comfortably.
I would put the melody on because I always have the intention, or I usually have the intention I should say, to allow the vocalist to write some of the lyrics. That way, because a lot of the times, the vocalists are friends of mine, some of the times they have never been on a major record, this way they get songwriting credit and also singing lyrics that they wrote so they are singing a part of themselves.
I put the melody on so that I can sing it to them, so they can get ideas for the lyrics. But as I was putting melodies on these songs, I liked it that way. Man, I liked them as instrumentals, it really works! So that's when I got the idea to do both. And this is an idea I wanted to do many many years ago, you know, when I was on other record labels, I wanted to put out two separate records on two separate record labels on the same day, but in most cases business don't like to work together if they are in the same field. Record labels don't like to work together on things like that. So now that I am the record label, I felt that I could do it.
But the idea at first was to do a vocal record then I loved the instrumentals of it so I made different versions and the instrumental version has different arrangements, different musicians in cases and you get a different experience of the same song.
Usually, a vocalist, like a pop vocalist wants to put out a record but then a jazz musician comes around, you know, a few years later and does and instrumental version of it so it happens all the time, I just did it myself this time.