The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music
Victor L. Wooten
Paperback; 288 pages
ISBN: 9789022993538 Berkley Books
Bassist Victor Wooten's book The Music Lesson is a tour de force, a bold and courageous exploration of how to shift one's consciousness and engage the world from a nonordinary perspective. This is not your usual jazz autobiography, but then Wooten is not your usual musician: the forty-four year old bassist is the only three-time winner of Bass Player magazine's Bass Player of the Year award, and he is renowned for his work with the Grammy-award winning group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. For anyone wondering how Wooten gets his special sound, this book offers some surprising answers.
When the book begins, Wooten is a young musician struggling to make his mark on the Nashville music scene. His life is at a low point, with no gigs, no girlfriend, and no money for the rent. Then a mysterious man named Michael walks into his living room and changes his life. Right from the start, Michael is a thoroughly engaging character: what's not to like about a man who plays a mean guitar, sings to frogs, and wears an American flag on his head?
But there's much more to Michael than that; he's nothing less than a mystic guide, a teacher whose goal is to change the fundamental way Wooten perceives the world. Michael does this through teaching Wooten the ten elements of music: notes, articulation, technique, feel, dynamics, rhythm, tone, phrasing, space, and listening. Michael and Wooten's ongoing conversation about music takes them on an engaging journey that includes gigging at funky Nashville hot spots, running on all fours at a Native American power spot, and communing with animals at Nashville's Radnor Lake. In addition to Michael, Wooten meets Sam, an eleven-year-old musical prodigy; Uncle Clyde, a harmonica player and healer; and Isis, a feisty gift-wrapping psychic. All the characters use unusual methods to show Wooten how to eliminate the grid of "normal" perception and see life freshly.
One of the book's great strengths is the way it includes the reader. As Wooten goes on his journey with Michael and the other characters, he is not afraid to show himself in all his colors, whether naive, arrogant or flat-out confused. Wooten's humility allows the reader to identify with him and learn alongside him. Another aspect of this inclusion is the way each lesson combines philosophical contemplation with extremely practical exercises, and occasionally detailed musical instructions. Although this is not a blatant how-to book, the exercises are so simple that any reader can try them and reap their benefits.
The book's true magic lies in the fact that the reader's consciousness is expanded in the process of reading. Wooten achieves this in several ways. For instance, the book is full of lovely insights, such as when Michael says, "There is always beauty to be found, and it is necessary to find it in all things and in all people if real change is to be made in this world....It is always easier to build upon this beauty than to pretend it is not there and try to create it from scratch." And just reading about Michael and the other teachers asks the reader to think bigger. Michael engages in many nonordinary activities, and like Wooten himself, the reader wrestles with what's "true," or even physically possible. The best way to approach this book is to give over to its magic, and not get stuck in logical rutswhich is exactly what Wooten learns to do over the course of the book.
This is a daring book, a work of art that's sure to engage both musicians and nonmusicians. With its emphasis on opening the heart and the mind, The Music Lesson is a new kind of jazz biography, perfect for the new era we've just entered.