Bluegrass and jazz? yes please. The band formed in 1988 that goes by the name of Béla Fleck and the Fleckstones is a band filled with incredible musicians starting with Fleck on the banjo, Victor Wooten on the bass, Roy Wooten on the drumitar (more on this later) Howard Levi and Jeff Coffin.
The instrumental only band was formed by Fleck after he was invited to play for the Lonesome Pine Special on PBS in 1988. He decided to keep the group together and work on some music, and as time kept passing by the band never got tired of experimenting and keep pushing it further into strange genres, amazing bass solos and complex structures. But who is the man behind the band’s name?
He is one of the most recognized banjo players in the music industry. He started playing at the age of 15 and got very interested in bluegrass music.
He studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art and practiced with his banjo experimenting with new sounds and genres such as jazz. After graduating he joined a band called Tasty Licks and after that he made a solo album which eventually led him to to form the band.
One of the insteresting things about this band was its approach to percussion
In an interview with Casey Driessen, he talks a bit about how the Drumitar came to be.
Casey: How did you make the transition from sticks to fingers? How did the thought process for your instrument the Drumitar begin?
Futureman: The metaphor would be like somebody who is really into studying everything about the physical body and one day they want to go deeper and see it under a microscope. I wanted to dig deeper, to apply a note to every stroke, and open up each stroke to a melodic interpretation.
Casey: What were the first reactions to the Drumitar?
Futureman: At first people didn’t understand, but after the first Grammy and then the second one, people were like, “Oh!” And at every NAMM Show people would understand my new approach to the drums a little bit better. My whole approach was to never advertise it, let people experience it, be invisible. If they didn’t ask, then I knew I had passed the test. Then Max Roach came to one of the Flecktones’ shows. I didn’t see him, but we talked on the phone afterwards, and I said, “Max, you are such a big influence, you’re like my hero. We used to listen to you all the time.” And he said, “Nah, man, you’re my hero. I saw you playing but I didn’t see the drums, and when I saw what you were doing I thought: That’s some creative shit.” That’s all I needed.
Wooten is one of the greatest bassists in music, and also plays cello ocassionally. He has won the Bass Player of the Year award from Bass Player magazine three times and is among the 10 best bass players of all time according to Rolling Stone.
He has a long solo career history and a big interest in teaching music that led him to create the Center for Music and Nature and includes all instruments.
Howard Levy and Jeff Coffin
Even though Howard and Jeff didn’t stay for every step of the way with the rest of the band, they both brought something fresh to the sound of the band since they were both so different yet great musicians.
Howard was a multi instrumentalist, but his main thing was the harmonica which was beautifully implemented with the Fleckstones.
On the other side, Jeff was a saxophonist since the age of five, and with that long history in his pocket, it was only logical that the sax part in the Fleckstones would be very very interesting.
This is a very unique band full of talent and cool experiments, so for any musician out there, try listening to some of their work, it’s almost guaranteed to be worth your while.