Composer, banjoist, and bandleader Béla Fleck has been a major player in America’s music scene for decades. Nominated in more categories than any other artist in Grammy history, Fleck has received no fewer than 18 of the coveted awards while working with a wealth of legendary musicians. Touring once again with his longtime band, The Flecktones, the celebrated performer will be hitting Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre on June 4. Below, Fleck opens up to Westchester Magazine about his surprising past and bright future.
How did you first become interested in the banjo?
I fell for the sound of the banjo while watching the Beverly Hillbillies when I was a kid growing up on the Upper West Side of New York City. When I was 15, my grandfather in Peekskill got me a banjo, and I spent many happy weekends there. Once I began playing, I was instantly converted into a Type A practice-aholic.
Please explain the genesis of The Flecktones.
Victor Wooten called me one day out of the blue and played his bass for me over the phone. It led to many things, and life changed dramatically after that. He introduced me to Future Man [percussion], and I introduced both of them to Howard Levy [keyboard and harmonica]. Those early days were full of magic. We taught each other many things, and every tour was an adventure and a science experiment.
Are there any musicians you especially enjoy playing alongside of?
The Flecktones guys are such special musicians to me, and there are none better. But I am fortunate to have had long musical relationships with so many other fantastic musicians: Chick Corea, Zakir Hussain, Toumani Diabate, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Mark O’Connor, Edgar Meyer, Branford Marsalis, Tony Rice, the Dave Mathews Band, and the Phish guys.
What do you see ahead for yourself?
I hope to continue for a long, long time. This is a sweet period, with a 3-year-old son and doing a lot of touring with my talented wife, Abigail Washburn. I’m avoiding long tours that take me away from them, although there are some things that I can’t turn down—like reuniting with my Flecktones family!—PA