Just in case you aren't familiar with Béla Fleck, there are some who say he's the premiere banjo player in the world. Others claim that Béla has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map and on a range of solo projects and collaborations. If you are familiar with Béla, you know that he just loves to play the banjo, and put it into unique settings.
Born and raised in New York City, Béla began his musical career playing the guitar. In the early 1960's, while watching the Beverly Hillbillies, the bluegrass sounds of Flatt & Scruggs flowed out of the TV set and into his young brain. Earl Scruggs's banjo style hooked Béla's interest immediately. "It was like sparks going off in my head" he later said.
It wasn't until his grandfather bought him a banjo in September of '73, that it became his full time passion. That week, Béla entered New York City's, High School of Music and Art. He began studies on the French horn but soon switched to the chorus. Since the banjo wasn't an offered elective at Music & Art, Béla sought lessons through outside sources. Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz, and Tony Trischka stepped up and filled the job. Béla joined his first band, "Wicker's Creek" during this period. Living in NYC, Béla was exposed to a wide variety of musical experiences. One of the most impressive was a concert by "Return to Forever" featuring Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. This concert encouraged further experimenting with bebop and jazz on the banjo, signs of things to come.
Several months after high school, Béla moved to Boston to play with Jack Tottle's Tasty Licks. While in Boston, Béla continued his jazz explorations, made two albums with Tasty Licks, and his first solo banjo album Crossing the Tracks, on Rounder Records. This is where he first played with future musical partners Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas.
After the break up of Tasty Licks, Béla spent a summer on the streets of Boston playing with bass player, Mark Schatz. Mark and Béla moved to Lexington, KY to form Spectrum, which included Jimmy Gaudreau, Glen Lawson, and Jimmy Mattingly. Spectrum toured until 1981. While in Spectrum, he and Mark traveled to California and Nashville to record his second album Natural Bridge with David Grisman, Mark O'Connor, Ricky Skaggs, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, and other great players.