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August 21, 2017

A Conversation with Victor Wooten, Bassist for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones


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In the world of bass players, few can match Victor Wooten’s mastery. He’s well-versed in the stylings of jazz and funk while also dabbling in the realms of progressive rock and metal. Wooten is always on a mission to teach the younger generation while upholding knowledge to a high standard and encouraging artistic self-identity. To refer to him as a virtuoso is an egregious understatement. He’s beyond the term due to the way he slaps his bass and his uncanny ability to adapt.

Wooten will be playing with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at this weekend’s Newport Jazz Festival, the band will headline and close out the historic festival on Friday, August 4th.

I had a chance to catch up with Wooten for a chat about his Center for Music and Nature, being the commencement speaker at the University Of Vermont’s graduation ceremony, artistic progression, different music projects and a new album on the horizon.

Rob Duguay (RD): When you’re not on the road, one of the things you do is run your Center for Music and Nature that’s located in Only, Tennessee outside of Nashville. What made you want to start the center and how long do your classes usually run?

Victor Wooten (VW): “This is just fulfilling my desire to share with people and to help people live their dreams. I grew up with people always helping me and I wanted to do that same thing. I had a few friends who were running camps, one was a nature camp and they were teaching people how to live off the land and things like that. Then there was a violin player named Mark O’Connor who was also running fiddle camps. From taking those ideas, I wanted to do a similar thing for bass players so we started doing it in the year 2000 and this is our 18th year.”

RD: That’s awesome.

VW: Yeah. “To answer the second part, we have camps of different lengths. The camp we’re doing currently is a songwriting camp. We call it C.A.P.; composition, arranging and performing. I look at all three of those aspects culminating in a concert that the students are going to do. This camp lasts for a complete week from Monday to Sunday.”

“Most of our camps are generally six days and even though we do a few different camps. A music theory camp lasts three days and we usually do them every month from April to October.”

RD: It’s located in Wooten Woods so is the center located right in the middle of a forest or is this in just a scenic area in Tennessee where the camp is located?

VW: “It’s west of Nashville on roughly 150 acres so we are surrounded by trees, lots and lots of trees, but we have a 30 to 40 acre cleared out area in the middle where we have buildings, cabins, lecture halls, a big giant dome, a teepee, a basketball court. We’re all here, the students sleep here, we all eat here, we have showers and everything is here. It’s also on a river so we’re totally secluded. No one knows we’re here unless you know we’re here. We can play loud and go late without disturbing anyone.”

RD: Last year you got to be the commencement speaker for the University Of Vermont. You spoke while playing bass and the video of it is very entertaining along with being very inspiring. How did it work out with you bringing the bass on stage? Did you have the idea of doing it all along when you were approached with the opportunity or was a spur of the moment thing?

VW: “It was not a completely last minute decision but it wasn’t my first idea. My first idea was to do a commencement speech and I had to write one, blah, blah, blah. Then I thought about doing it differently and add some accompaniment and add a soundtrack to what I’m going to say. It wasn’t my first thought but it also wasn’t last minute. I don’t remember how long in advance I thought about it but I was happy with it. I was happy with how it all came out.”

 

RD: I thought the video was really cool too when it first got posted. You’re playing with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in Newport as part of the Jazz Festival. You met Bela while playing country music at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia and now you play in a jazz fusion band with him. How did the artistic progression come to be? Was it a meeting of the minds or was it Bela initially asking you to join his band?

VW: “It was all of the above. I started working at Busch Gardens as part of their country and bluegrass show in 1981. I worked there on and off from 1981 to 1987, there was a year or do when I didn’t work there and there were a couple times when I only worked there on the weekends but I never met Bela during the time I was there. That was definitely when I heard about Béla, that’s when I found out who he was. It wasn’t until 1987 when I visited Nashville to meet up with a guy who I met at Busch Gardens named Kurt Story.”

“Kurt was born and raised in Nashville and he knew everybody, he was the guy who actually introduced me to Béla. When I met Béla, we immediately just sat down together in his kitchen and he and I just jammed for a couple hours. It was not long after that that he told me about a television show he was asked to perform on and he was wondering if I would do it with him. He told me how he just met a keyboard player named Howard Levy who also plays harmonica and he just needed a drummer. I told him about my brother and that’s when the band was formed to do this one show in ’87 or ’88, it was supposed to be this one show but it went so well that 30 years later we’re still doing it.”

RD: What television show was it?

VW: “It was a show produced out of Louisville, KY and it was called The Lonesome Pine Specials. It was a great show, they don’t have it anymore but they would spotlight different musicians. They produced an hour long TV show on Béla Fleck and it was pretty cool. I was lucky enough to do three of The Lonesome Pine Specials. It was really, really nice and I wish it was still around.”

RD: That’s pretty cool. Your first album in five years, TRYPNOTYX, is coming out on September 8th. I listened to it the other day and I think it’s stellar. What was your main goal going into the studio with Dennis Chambers and Bob Franchesini? There’s definitely a big funk element within the album.

VW: “Well, the main thing was that I wanted to do a record with these two guys. I just love these two guys as musicians and the first thing was that we just went out and did some shows. We put together some music, went out and started performing together. Through doing that the music started to take a direction, or I should probably say that the music started taking a bunch of different directions. When you hear the record, you realize that there are all sorts of elements on it.”

“Dennis Chambers has always been one of my favorite drummers and Bob Franchesini is one of my newer friends but we’ve been playing together for about a decade. He’s one of my all-time favorite saxophone players, but it was through playing together that the music started to form in a certain way. The next thing was to get it on record, just to record it. Then we needed a few original extra songs so Bob brought in some songs and now we have TRYPNOTYX and we’re very, very happy with this record.”

RD: You should be. You’re also in these two other projects, ones with a glam metal band from the ‘80s that’s making a comeback called Nitro and there’s this other band called Octavision which is a prog-metal act. When people think of you, they associate you with a lot of jazz and funk and they don’t really associate you with the metal genre. With Octavision and Nitro, when are both of their new albums coming out? What made you want to tap into metal? Did you listen to a lot of it when you were growing up?

VW: “Metal and rock is something that I’ve been listening to since I was young. I’m 52, so I was born in ’64 and aware of music very early via my family. We have to remember that when I was young what was called ‘pop music’ only meant it was popular. There wasn’t a style of music called pop, it just meant it was popular so the pop radio stations were playing whatever was topping the charts. That could be James Brown, The Jackson 5 and The Temptations but it could also be Led Zeppelin.”

“You would hear all sorts of things on the pop stations and from listening to that I was listening to all sorts of things. Stuff like Jethro Tull, all sorts of great music. I’ve been influenced by that music and there were a lot of hair bands that were happening in the ‘80s. I was hearing Van Halen, Whitesnake and Cinderella, that stuff was fascinating to me. Genres of music are still made up of the same ingredients.”

“For me, music is just music. The styles are different but there are still the same ingredients. It’s still just 12 notes, some rhythms. The styles aren’t so important, I just like good music and I can also learn from what I consider to be bad music. Octavision came about from a friend of mine who is a guitarist from Armenia who lives in California.”

“He asked me if I would play a song for him and I was totally down to do it. The mistake was when the announcement and the music came out, everybody thought it was my project. It’s not, it’s this guy Hovak Alaverdyan’s project and I just happened to play bass on it. It’s really incredible music and it’s probably one of the hardest things that I’ve had to play and I love it. I’m only on one song though and I have no idea when the rest of it is coming out.”

“Through that, some other rock, prog and metal people started contacting me. I had people saying ‘Man, I didn’t know you were into that’ and all that kind of stuff, which I was happy about. All the guys from Nitro contacted me saying they were looking for a bass player to play on this record. I was definitely interested and I’ve never been able to record a whole record this way before. Finally, I’m going to get the chance to do this record with Nitro and these guys are heroes of mine.”

“I’ve been a fan of Michael Angelo Batio since I was a kid so this exciting for me to get to show another musical side of myself. It’s all interesting and fun to me so I’m happy that I’m getting these opportunities.”

Béla Fleck, Victor Wooten, Roy “Futureman” Wooten and Howard Levy, the original lineup of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, will perform at the 2017 Newport Jazz Festival on Friday, August 4th. For tickets and more information, visit www.newportjazz.org.

Fore more info on Victor Wooten, visit www.victorwooten.com.

 

Béla Fleck, Victor Wooten, Roy “Futureman” Wooten and Howard Levy, the original lineup of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, will perform at the 2017 Newport Jazz Festival.

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