[JPL] A plinking man's jazz band

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat Apr 22 10:06:19 EDT 2006


New York Daily News - <http://www.nydailynews.com>http://www.nydailynews.com
A plinking man's jazz band
By GENE SANTORO
DAILY NEWS WRITER
Friday, April 21st, 2006

People think of the banjo and imagine one thing: bluegrass. But when Bela 
Fleck plays one, you'll hear bebop, rock, blues and even classical music.

"I live mostly in the cracks between bluegrass and jazz," Fleck explains.

Fleck, who works with his equally versatile quartet, the Flecktones, has 
netted eight Grammy wins and 20 nominations in an unrivaled range of 
categories.

Weirdly, it all started with "The Beverly Hillbillies." "I used to watch 
the show when I was little," says Fleck, 47. "The theme song is silly, but 
the sound of the banjo just laid me in the dirt.

"Then came 'Deliverance,'" he admits. While he acknowledges that those are 
"two pretty lame role models," he says they had "really great music."

The New York-born Fleck received his first banjo just before he entered the 
High School of Music and Art. But the instrument wasn't taught there. So he 
majored in chorus.

A concert by Chick Corea and his band Return to Forever in the '70s pointed 
the teen toward his jazz-meets-bluegrass future. "Bluegrass is 
fast-fast-fast groove music," he explains. "What struck me was that even 
though Return to Forever had such a different sound and material, Chick 
Corea and the guys were doing that same thing. Each soloist led the charge, 
like in a bluegrass band, not laying off the beat or floating over it, like 
in a lot of jazz." (As it happens, Corea and Fleck will tour next year as a 
duo.)

This weekend, the Flecktones are in town for the Jammy Awards and the Green 
Apple Music and Arts Festival, which honors Earth Day. "I love the 
community aspect of the festival," Fleck says. "We're playing clubs [Irving 
Plaza and B.B. King's], not a big hall. It's more intimate. ... We're 
sitting in with people and vice versa, and doing a free show at Grand 
Central Saturday afternoon. The whole exchange I really like."

In turn, fans know a Flecktones show is all about musicians exchanging 
ideas. "Playing music the way we recorded it makes us restless," Fleck 
says. "We're always looking to experiment. After all, we've been doing that 
for years. And," he drawls, "we're pretty good at it."


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