Hungarian audiences might understandably wonder why the man regarded by many as the world's greatest banjo player happens to be called Béla. Naturally, he's named after the composer Bartók, whom Béla Fleck's parents revered enormously. Yet Béla himself would not grow up to be a classical musician. He first learned guitar, until he heard the banjo play of Earl Scruggs and fireworks were lit in his head. The next major influence came when Fleck went to a concert of jazz-fusion group Return T...o Forever in the 1970s. It was then that the idea took root of melding the traditional bluegrass medium of the banjo with jazz and rock.
Recording his debut solo album at the age of 19, Fleck then spent nine years performing and recording as a member of the New Grass Revival. His fans can be very grateful to the friend who then drew Béla's attention to the bass guitarist Victor Lemonte Wooten, who in turn canvassed for a job for his brother, Roy "Future Man” Wooten, with Fleck's then embryonic formation, soon to emerge under the name of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Fleck needed little convincing to work with either. The foundation of the group's success was laid with harmonica player Howard Levy, before the latter's departure saw the others continue for a few years as a trio, until the picture once more was completed with the addition of saxophonist Jeff Coffin. It was with this line-up that the band won a slew of Grammy Awards, played concerts to an annual combined audience of half a million fans worldwide, and performed on top television shows.
In addition, Fleck has written a banjo concerto with full orchestra accompaniment, delved into the instrument's African roots, and for some years now performed increasingly often in concert with fellow banjo player Abigail Washburn. As one might expect from a husband and wife pairing, the two are perfectly attuned, both having a deep respect and understanding for the music of the Appalachian Mountains. Washburn quit law school in Beijing 15 years ago to pursue the banjo, and preserves a memory of this time by singing in Chinese at their concerts.
Presented by: Müpa Budapest
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