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Interviews

Bela Fleck (BEY-Lah Fleck): See Curious, Creative Mind

By Published: January 17, 2012
AAJ: In September, with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra you did the "Concerto for Banjo" that they commissioned.

BF: That was a huge high-jump for me.

AAJ: You had a blank slate and had to come up with the concept and music?

BF: Yeah. I told them I would really like to write a concerto, and they said OK.

AAJ: I know you've done some classically influenced stuff in the past, like Perpetual Motion (Sony Classical, 2001), but how hard was it and how different on this project?

BF: It was really different. Normally I write sketches [of music] and show them to a group. I always thought I was pretty good at writing sketches. I would call them banjo tunes or whatever. So I felt like I was some kind of a writer. People seemed to like the tunes I wrote and they seemed to work for an audience. But I had never written every note of a piece before. All I would write is the banjo part, and then help the other guys figure out what to play with it—if they needed help.

This was every single note for 80 people, for 35 minutes. That was quite a challenge. But I got into it. I really loved doing it. I wrote it over the course of a year. I left a couple months open to write, and not be on the road. I'd go to places for a couple of weeks and hide out and write. Then just keep on working the material as I was on tour. After the show, I'd get on the back of the bus and get out the computer and work on things. I seemed to make steady progress and eventually have this thing written. I orchestrated the piece. We played it and it sounded good. Everybody, including me, was surprised.

AAJ: How did it feel when you got on stage and all of a sudden it was time to debut it?

BF: Oh, man. I was palpitating. It was extremely intense. Not only was it a premiere, the first time in the world playing this thing, but Earl Scruggs was in the audience. He's my hero. And we were filming it, and recording it for a record. At the time I thought, "We should go ahead and capture this, because who knows when we're going to get another performance. I'm already going to be freaked out because it's the premiere. How can I be any more freaked out just because we're filming it? In a way, I might even be distracted because I'm so busy trying to play it, that I won't even be thinking about being filmed or recorded. Let's just get it done."

It was very, very intense working up to the performance. And we were filming that too. We're making a documentary. So there's going to be a documentary at some point about the writing and first performance of that piece. So the pressure was up. But it came off really well. It's been a relief to have it done. But I'm looking forward to having it out there.

AAJ: Was Scruggs an inspiration for the piece?

BF: I dedicated it to him. It wasn't that I was channeling his music at all. But rather that fact that he exists and what he did with the banjo, basically setting the stage for everything that I do. He's the man that invented the three-finger style and that's what I've built my music from. I think he's been an innovator his whole life and he's still out there playing at 88 years old. He and I have developed a very warm relationship over the last 10 years or so. I really love him and I wanted to honor him.

In a way, I was completing some of the things he had started rolling. I wanted him to see that happen. He never did that. He never played with s symphony, with his own original music. But I wouldn't have been doing it if it wasn't for everything he did. So I decided to dedicate the piece to Earl. It seemed right. It was kind of a first and he deserved some acknowledgement.

AAJ: Aside from the documentary, that music is going to come out as a separate CD?

BF: Yeah. It is. The only thing is, I need to make the rest of the CD. There's only this 35-minute piece. So I'm deciding whether I want to write another short piece for string quartet and banjo, or whether to do solo pieces. But I want to come up with some more music and I look forward to that, because I enjoy getting creative and coming up with stuff. It will probably be next summer before [CD release] happens. The next thing to come out will be this Marcus Roberts/ Béla Fleck album. That's a really fun project, too. His trio and me. Four of us. We just have to mix it.

Selected Discography

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Rocket Science (eOne Music, 2011)

Béla Fleck, Thrown Your Heart (Rounder Records, 2009)

Béla Fleck/Chick Corea, The Enchantment (Concord, 2007)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, The Hidden Land (Columbia, 2006)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Little Worlds/Ten From Little Worlds (Columbia, 2003)

Béla Fleck, Perpetual Motion (Sony Classical, 2001)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Outward Bound (Columbia, 2000)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Left of Cool (Warner Bros., 1998)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Live Art (Warner Bros., 1996)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, UFO Tofu (Warner Bros., 1992)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (Warner Bros., 1991)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones (Warner Bros., 1990)

New Grass Revival, Friday Night in America (Capitol, 1989)
Béla Fleck, Double Time (Rounder Records, 1984)

New Grass Revival. On the Boulevard (Sugar Hill, 1984)

Béla Fleck, Crossing the Tracks (Rounder Records, 1979)

Photo Credits
Pages 1, 2: Courtesy of Bela Fleck
Bela Fleck
Bela Fleck
b.1958
banjo

Page 3: Kevin Tomanka
Page 4: John Kelman
Page 5: Courtesy of Knoxville News


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