Béla Fleck (born July 10, 1958 in New York City, New York) is an American virtuoso banjo player. He is best known for his work with the band Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, with bassist Victor Wooten, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, and percussionist Future Man.
Life and early career
Béla Anton Leoš Fleck, who is named after famous Hungarian composer Béla Bartók
, Austrian composer Anton Weber
, and Czech composer Leoš Janáček
, was drawn to the banjo when he first heard Earl Scruggs
play the theme song for the television show Beverly Hillbillies
. He received his first banjo at age fifteen from his grandfather (1973). He was a member of the class of 1976 at P.S. 75 (the Emily Dickinson
School) in Manhattan. Later, Fleck enrolled in New York City's High School of Music and Art
where he studied the French horn
. He was a banjo student under Tony Trischka
Almost immediately after high school, Fleck traveled to Boston to play with Jack Tottle and Mark Schatz in Tasty Licks. During this period, Fleck released his first solo album (1979): Crossing the Tracks and made his first foray into progressive-bluegrass composition.
Fleck played on the streets of Boston with bassist Mark Schatz; and the two formed Spectrum: the Band in 1981. Fleck toured with Spectrum until 1981. That year, Sam Bush asked Fleck to join New Grass Revival. Fleck performed with New Grass Revival for nine years. During this time, Fleck recorded another solo album, Drive. It was nominated for a Grammy Award in the then first-time category of Best Bluegrass Album (1988).
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988, rounded out with harmonica player Howard Levy and Wooten's percussionist brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten, who played synthesizer-based percussion. Levy left the group in 1992, making the band a trio until Saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the group onstage part-time in 1997, eventually becoming a permanent member. His first studio recording with the band was their 1998 album Left of Cool. In 1996 he appeared on the tribute Album to Hank Marvin, one of his influences, and The Shadows "Twang" playing a Shadows UK hit from the 1960s "The Stranger".
With the Flecktones, Fleck has been nominated for and won several Grammy awards.
Other music and recordings
Fleck has shared Grammy wins with Asleep at the Wheel
, Alison Brown
, and Edgar Meyer
. He has been nominated in more categories than any other musician, namely country
, spoken word
, and arranging
In 2001, Fleck collaborated with long-time friend and playing-partner Edgar Meyer to record Perpetual Motion, an album of classical material played on the banjo along with an assortment of accompanists, including John Williams, Evelyn Glennie, Joshua Bell and Gary Hoffman. The album includes such staggeringly difficult selections as Chopin's Etude Op. 10 No. 4 in C# minor, Debussy's Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, and Paganini's Moto Perpetuo (from which is derived the name), as well as more lyrical pieces such as the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, two of Chopin's mazurkas, and two Scarlatti keyboard sonatas. Perpetual Motion won two Grammys at the Grammy Awards of 2002 for Best Classical Crossover Album and Best Arrangement for Fleck and Meyer's arrangement of Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. Fleck and Meyer have also composed a Banjo concerto that has been played numerous times with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Fleck names Chick Corea, Charlie Parker and the aforementioned Earl Scruggs as influences. He regards Scruggs as "certainly the best" banjo player of the three-finger style.
Solo and with the Flecktones, Fleck has appeared at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Merlefest, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Toronto Jazz Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Bonnaroo, and Jazzfest, among others.
He has also appeared as a sideman with artists ranging from Tony Rice to Ginger Baker and Phish.
In 2005, while the Flecktones were on hiatus, Fleck undertook several new projects. These included recording with African traditional musicians; cowriting a documentary film called Bring it Home about the Flecktones' first year off in 17 years and their reunion after that time; coproducing Song of the Traveling Daughter, the debut album by Abigail Washburn, a young banjo player who mixes bluegrass and Chinese music; and forming the acoustic fusion supergroup TRIO! with fellow virtuosos Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke. He also recorded an album as a member of the Sparrow Quartet, along with Abigail Washburn, Ben Sollee, and Casey Driessen.
In late 2006, Fleck teamed up with Chick Corea to record an album that was scheduled to be released in May 2007. Fleck and Corea were touring together throughout 2007.
In July 2007 at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, he appeared and jammed with Toumani Diabate, the world famous kora player from Mali.
In November 2007 at the Bologna Jazz Festival (Italy) he met an Italian guitarist Filippo Stefanoni (as highlited from a famous picture).
In December 2007 he performed charity concerts in Germany to help promote AIDS awareness. His largest concert was held in Grosse Halle Bern on 1 December 2007.
On June 13, 2008, he performed as part of The Bluegrass Allstars, comprised of bluegrass heavyweights Luke Bulla, Edgar Meyer, Bryan Sutton, and Jerry Douglas at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
The next day Fleck performed with Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet also at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Deering Crossfire Banjo made by the Deering Banjo Company
Deering Tenbrooks Saratoga Star made by the Deering Banjo Company
Deering John Hartford banjo made by Deering Banjo Company
Solo/with multiple other musicians
- Crossing the Tracks (Rounder Records, 1979)
- Natural Bridge (Rounder Records, 1982)
- Double Time (Rounder Records, 1984)
- Inroads (Rounder Records, 1986)
- Daybreak (Rounder Records, 1987)
- Drive (Rounder Records, 1988; SACD reissue: Mobile Fidelity, 2004)
- Places (Rounder Records, 1988)
- Tales From The Acoustic Planet (Warner Brothers, 1995)
- The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 2 (Warner Brothers, 1999)
- Perpetual Motion (Sony Classical, 2001)
As part of a musical group
- Tasty Licks (Rounder Records, 1978)
- Anchored to the Shore (Rounder Records, 1979)
- Opening Roll (Rounder Records, 1981)
- Too Hot For Words (Rounder Records, 1982)
- Live in Japan (Rounder Records, 1983)
The New Grass Revival
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
- Béla Fleck And The Flecktones (Warner Brothers, 1990)
- Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (Warner Brothers, 1991)
- UFO Tofu (Warner Brothers, 1992)
- Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Warner Brothers, 1993)
- Live Art (Warner Brothers, 1996)
- Left of Cool (Warner Brothers, 1998)
- Greatest Hits of the 20th Century (Warner Brothers, 1999)
- Outbound (Columbia Records, 2000)
- Live at the Quick (Columbia Records, 2002)
- Little Worlds (Columbia Records, 2003)
- Ten From Little Worlds (Selections from Little Worlds, Columbia Records, 2003)
- The Hidden Land (Columbia Records, 2006)
The Sparrow Quartet with Abigail Washburn, Casey Driessen, and Ben Sollee
As a guest musician
- Sam Bush – Late as Usual (Rounder Records, 1984)
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two (MCA Records, 1989)
- Phish – Hoist (Elektra Records, 1994)
- Bruce Hornsby – Hot House (RCA Records, 1995)
- Curandero – Aras (Silver Wave, 1996)
- Dave Matthews Band – Before These Crowded Streets (RCA, 1998)
- Eddie From Ohio – Looking Out the Fishbowl (Vriginia Soul Records, 1999)
- Phish – Farmhouse (Elektra Records, 2000)
- Jorma Kaukonen – Blue Country Heart (2002)
- Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra – Let's Polka 'Round (2003)
- Dave Matthews Band – Live Trax Vol. 1: 12.8.98 Centrum Centre, Worcester, MA (2004)
- Charlie Peacock – Full Circle (2004)
- Dave Matthews Band – Live Trax Vol. 7: 12.31.96 Hamptom Coliseum, Hampton, VA (2006)
- Keller Williams – Dream (2007)
- Best Spoken Word for Children, "The Creation", by Amy Grant with Béla Fleck
- Best Country Instrumental, "Cheeseballs in Cowtown", by Béla Fleck
- Best World Music Album, "Tabula Rasa", by Béla Fleck et al
- Best Country Instrumental, "The Ride", by Jerry Douglas with Béla Fleck
- Best Bluegrass Album, "Tales from the Acoustic Planet: Volume 2: the Bluegrass Sessions", by Béla Fleck
- Best Country Instrumental Performance, "Bear Mountain Hop", from The Country Bears Soundtrack (with Béla Fleck)
Notes and references