Béla Fleck

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Béla Fleck
bespectacled man in shirtsleeves playing banjo
Fleck performing on February 9, 2007
Background information
Birth name Béla Anton Leoš Fleck
Born (1958-07-10) July 10, 1958 (age 59)
New York City, U.S.
Genres Jazz, jazz fusion, bluegrass, folk, classical, world, folk rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, composer
Instruments Banjo
Years active 1976–present
Labels Rounder, Warner Bros., Sony Classical, Rhino
Associated acts New Grass Revival, Strength in Numbers, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Abigail Washburn, Sparrow Quartet
Website belafleck.com
Notable instruments
Deering Crossfire electric banjo with custom pickups and synthesizer pickup

Béla Anton Leoš Fleck (born July 10, 1958) is an American banjo player. An innovative and technically proficient banjo player,[1] he is best known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

A native of New York City, Fleck was named after Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, Austrian composer Anton Webern, and Czech composer Leoš Janáček. He was drawn to the banjo at a young age when he heard Earl Scruggs play the theme song for the television show Beverly Hillbillies[3] and when he heard "Dueling Banjos" by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell on the radio. At age fifteen, he received his first banjo from his grandfather.[4] During the train ride home, a man volunteered to tune the banjo and suggested he learn from the book How to Play the Five String Banjo by Pete Seeger.[5] He attended the High School of Music & Art in New York City, playing French horn until he flunked and was transferred to the choir, though he spent most of his time on the banjo. He studied the book Bluegrass Banjo by Pete Wernick and took lessons from Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz, and Tony Trischka.[6]

After graduating from high school, he moved to Boston and became a member of the group Tasty Licks, with whom he recorded two albums. He released his debut solo album, Crossing the Tracks (1979), and it was chosen Best Overall Album by the readers of Frets magazine.[4]

Fleck played on the streets of Boston with bassist Mark Schatz. Along with guitarist Glen Lawson and mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau, they formed Spectrum in 1981. That same year, Sam Bush asked Fleck to join New Grass Revival. Fleck performed with New Grass Revival for nine years. During this time, in 1987 Fleck recorded another solo album, Drive, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Bluegrass Album. During the 1980s Fleck and Bush also performed live with Doc Watson and Merle Watson in bluegrass festivals, most notably the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones[edit]

Fleck (right) with Victor Wooten

In 1988, Fleck and Victor Wooten formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones with keyboardist and harmonica player Howard Levy and Wooten's brother, Roy "Future Man" Wooten, who played synthesizer-based percussion. They recorded numerous albums, most notably Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, their second album, which reached number one on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart and found increased popularity among fans of jazz fusion.

Levy left the group in 1992, making the band a trio until saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the group onstage in 1997. His first studio recording with the band was their 1998 album, Left of Cool. Coffin left the group in 2008 to replace the Dave Matthews Band's saxophonist, the late LeRoi Moore. Levy returned to the Flecktones in 2009. Béla Fleck and the original Flecktones recorded Rocket Science and toured in 2011.

Other music and recordings[edit]

Fleck in Raleigh, North Carolina, June 6, 2011

Fleck played banjo on Before These Crowded Streets by the Dave Matthews Band, including the album's debut single "Don't Drink the Water".[7]

In 2001, he collaborated with Edgar Meyer on Perpetual Motion, an album of classical music played on the banjo. They were accompanied by John Williams, Evelyn Glennie, Joshua Bell, and Gary Hoffman. Perpetual Motion won Grammy Awards for Best Arrangement and Best Classical Crossover Album

Fleck and Meyer composed a double concerto for banjo and bass and performed its debut with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. They were commissioned to compose a trio concerto, for which they invited Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain. The concerto debuted in Nashville in 2006 and was recorded for the album The Melody of Rhythm.

Fleck premiered his Concerto for Banjo in Nashville, Tennessee on September 22, 2011, performing with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, which commissioned the work.[8]

In 2005, while the Flecktones were on hiatus, Fleck undertook several new projects: recording with traditional African musicians; co-writing the documentary Bring it Home about the Flecktones; co-producing Song of the Traveling Daughter, the debut album by his wife, Abigail Washburn; forming the acoustic fusion supergroup Trio! with Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke; and recording an album as a member of the Sparrow Quartet with Washburn, Ben Sollee, and Casey Driessen.

Personal life[edit]

Fleck and his wife Abigail Washburn play a duet at Shakori Hills Festival in 2010

Fleck is married to banjo player Abigail Washburn.[3][9] Washburn first met Fleck in Nashville at a square dance at which she was dancing and he was playing.[10] Fleck produced Washburn's first solo album. Fleck brought Washburn to Sascha Paladino's wedding in August 2007, and they played in a scratch band composed of wedding party members.[11] In May 2009, the Bluegrass Intelligencer website satirized the upcoming "strategic marriage" of Washburn and Fleck, with Driessen joking that the couple promised a "male heir" who will be the "Holy Banjo Emperor".[12]

Media appearances[edit]

Fleck was featured on Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Saturday Night Live, Later with Jools Holland, Sesame Street, Austin City Limits, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Music City Tonight, and The Marty Stuart Show.[citation needed]

He appeared on the cover of the July/August 2013 issue of Making Music magazine.[13]

Festivals[edit]

Alone and with the Flecktones, Fleck has appeared at the High Sierra Music Festival,[14] Telluride Bluegrass Festival,[15] Merlefest,[16] Montreal International Jazz Festival,[17] Toronto Jazz Festival,[18] Newport Folk Festival,[19] Delfest,[20] Austin City Limits Music Festival,[21] Shakori Hills,[22] Bonnaroo,[23] New Orleans Jazz Fest,[24] and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.[25]

Discography[edit]

Accolades[edit]

Grammy Awards and nominations[edit]

Fleck has shared Grammy Awards with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown, and Edgar Meyer. He has been nominated in more categories than any other musician,[26][27] namely country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition, and arranging.

Year Award Work Result[28]
1986 Country Instrumental "Seven By Seven" (from New Grass Revival by New Grass Revival) Nominated
1987 Country Instrumental "Metric Lips" (from Hold to a Dream by New Grass Revival) Nominated
1988 Bluegrass Album Drive Nominated
1989 Country Instrumental "Bigfoot" (from Friday Night in America by New Grass Revival Nominated
1990 Jazz Album Béla Fleck & The Flecktones Nominated
Jazz Instrumental  ??? Nominated
1991 Jazz Album Flight of the Cosmic Hippo Nominated
Jazz Instrumental "Blu-Bop" Nominated
1992 Jazz Instrumental "Magic Fingers" (from UFO Tofu) Nominated
1994 Spoken Word For Children The Creation by Amy Grant Nominated
1995 Best Country Instrumental Performance "Hightower" by Asleep at the Wheel with Béla Fleck and Johnny Gimble Won
Country Instrumental "Cheeseballs in Cowtown" (from The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 2) Nominated
1996 Best Pop Instrumental Performance "The Sinister Minister" by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (with Sam Bush & Paul McCandless) Won
World Music Tabula Rasa Nominated
1998 Best Instrumental Composition "Almost 12" by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones Won
Pop Instrumental "Big Country" (from Left of Cool) Nominated
Country Instrumental "The Ride" (from Restless on the Farm by Jerry Douglas) Nominated
1999 Bluegrass Bluegrass Sessions Nominated
2000 Best Contemporary Jazz Album Outbound by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones Won
Best Country Instrumental Performance "Leaving Cottondale" by Alison Brown and Béla Fleck Won
Pop Instrumental "Zona Mona" (from Outbound) Nominated
2001 Best Instrumental Arrangement Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum from Children's Corner Suite (Debussy) by Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer Won
Best Classical Crossover Album Perpetual Motion by Béla Fleck with Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell, and others Won
2003 Country Instrumental Performance "Bear Mountain Hop" (from The Country Bears Soundtrack) Nominated
2005 Country Instrumental "Who's Your Uncle" (from Best Kept Secret by Jerry Douglas) Nominated
Contemporary Jazz Album Soulgrass by Bill Evans Nominated
2006 Best Contemporary Jazz Album The Hidden Land by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones Won
Pop Instrumental "Subterfuge" (from The Hidden Land) Nominated
2009 Best Pop Instrumental Album Jingle All The Way by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones Won
Country Instrumental Performance "Sleigh Ride" (from Jingle All The Way) Nominated
2010 Best Pop Instrumental Performance "Throw Down Your Heart" by Béla Fleck Won
Best Contemporary World Music Album Throw Down Your Heart by Béla Fleck Won
Best Classical Crossover Album The Melody of Rhythm Nominated
2011 Best Contemporary World Music Album Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions Part 2: Unreleased Tracks by Béla Fleck Won
2012 Best Instrumental Composition "Life in Eleven" by Béla Fleck and Howard Levy Won
2016 Best Folk Album Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn Won

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Bela Fleck". Rhapsody. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Béla Fleck". Contemporary Musicians. 47. Detroit: Gale. 2004. Gale Document Number: GALE|K1608004009. Retrieved March 12, 2015.  Biography in Context.
  3. ^ a b Tippett, Krista (24 November 2016). "Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn – Truth, Beauty, Banjo". On Being. Retrieved 3 June 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Brennan, Sandra. "Béla Fleck". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 June 2017. 
  5. ^ "American Roots Music: Oral Histories – Bela Fleck". PBS.org. Retrieved 3 June 2017. 
  6. ^ Torkington, Nathan (21 February 1999). "Interview with Bela". Wayback Machine. Retrieved 3 June 2017. 
  7. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony (16 April 1998). "Before These Crowded Streets". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  8. ^ Schepps, Jake. "Bela Fleck's Concerto For Banjo". Bluegrass Today. Retrieved 18 January 2017. 
  9. ^ Oksenhorn, Stewart (February 4, 2010). "Banjoist Béla Fleck brings his Africa Project to Aspen". The Aspen Times. Swift Communications. Retrieved December 10, 2010. A year ago, Fleck appeared in Aspen as a member of the Sparrow Quartet, an ensemble led by fellow banjoist (and Fleck's girlfriend at the time, now his wife) Abigail Washburn that mixed Chinese folk songs, Appalachian gospel tunes, blues and more. 
  10. ^ Laskowski, Christine (July 8, 2010). "American Roots & a Love for China: Abigail Washburn Returns". Blog. The Beijinger. Retrieved December 10, 2010. 
  11. ^ Stowe, Stacey (August 5, 2007). "Erin Torneo and Sascha Paladino". The New York Times. Retrieved December 10, 2010. The band, consisting of the bridegroom's half brothers, Louie Fleck and Béla Fleck; the bridegroom's father, Joe Paladino; and Abigail Washburn, Béla Fleck's girlfriend, performed "Two of Us" by the Beatles. 
  12. ^ "Strategic Marriage Will Consolidate Power Within Single Banjo Sovereignty: Fleck, Washburn promise male heir, Holy Banjo Emperor". Bluegrass Intelligencer. Nashville: bluegrassintelligencer.com. May 28, 2009. Retrieved December 10, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Béla Fleck Brings Banjo from Front Porch to World Stage". July 1, 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Past Lineups - High Sierra Music Festival". High Sierra Music Festival. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  15. ^ "Planet Bluegrass - Telluride Bluegrass - History". www.bluegrass.com. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  16. ^ "MerleFest Reflections, MerleFest2012" (PDF). merlefest.org. 2012. 
  17. ^ "Artist : Béla Fleck - Festival International de Jazz de Montréal". Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  18. ^ "Past Event". TD Toronto Jazz Festival. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  19. ^ Garland Harwood (2015-07-26). "DAY TWO: The Best of Past and Present Collide in Newport". grass clippings - Piles of Americana & bluegrass news, reviews and festivals. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  20. ^ "Past Lineups - DelFest". DelFest. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  21. ^ "Austin City Limits Music Festival Day 1 Photos and Images | Getty Images". www.gettyimages.com. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  22. ^ "Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance". Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  23. ^ "Bela Fleck: Bonnaroo heat gets to performers, too". The Tennessean. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  24. ^ "Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at the New Orleans Jazz Fest: All banjos, all the time". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  25. ^ "2014 Schedule | Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014". www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  26. ^ "About". Bela Fleck. Retrieved 3 June 2017. 
  27. ^ "Awards : Grammy Awards and Nominations". Mywebpages.comcast.net. Archived from the original on August 18, 2007. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  28. ^ "GRAMMY.com". February 8, 2009. Archived from the original on February 13, 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gray, Michael (1998). "Béla Fleck". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 174–5.

External links[edit]