The Kennedy Center

Bela Fleck


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

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 was soon demoted to the chorus, due his
lack of musical aptitude. 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 at 19 years old made 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.
In 1981, Béla was invited to join the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, lead
by Sam Bush on mandolin, fiddle and vocals. With the addition of Pat Flynn on guitar
and NGR veteran John Cowan on bass and vocals, New Grass Revival took bluegrass
music to new limits, exciting audiences and critics alike. Through the course of five
albums, they charted new territory with their blend of bluegrass, rock and country music.
The relentless national and international touring by NGR exposed Béla's banjo playing to
the bluegrass/acoustic music world.

(During the 9 years Béla spent with NGR he continued to record a series of solo albums
for Rounder, including the ground breaking 1988 album "Drive". He also collaborated
with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor in an acoustic super
group called Strength in Numbers. The MCA release, "The Telluride Sessions", is also
considered an evolutionary statement by the acoustic music community.
Towards the end of the New Grass years, Béla and Howard Levy crossed paths at the
Winipeg Folk Festival. Next came a phone call from a friend who wanted to introduce
him to an amazing bass player. Victor Lemonte Wooten played some licks on the phone
for Béla and the second connection was made. In 1988 Dick Van Kleek, Artistic Director
for the PBS Lonesome Pine Series based in Louisville, Kentucky, offered Béla a solo

Béla put several musical sounds together with his banjo, a string quartet, his Macintosh
computer and also the more jazz based combo. Howard and Victor signed on for the
concert, but the group still lacked a drummer. The search was on for an unusual
drummer/percussionist. Victor offered up his brother Roy Wooten, later to become
known as FutureMan. Roy was developing the Drumitar (Drum - Guitar), it was then in
its' infancy. A midi trigger device, the drumitar allowed FutureMan to play the drums
with his fingers triggering various sampled sounds. The first rehearsal held at Béla's
Nashville home was hampered by a strong thunderstorm that knocked the electricity out
for hours. The four continued on with an acoustic rehearsal and the last slot on the TV
show became the first performance of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Next came the self-titled CD, which Béla financed himself. The recording attracted the
attention of the folks at Warner Brothers Records. It was released in 1990, dubbed a"blubop"
mix of jazz and bluegrass, and soon became a commercially successful disc. The
album was Grammy nominated, and their second recording "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo"
followed suit. Howard Levy toured and recorded with the Flecktones till the end of 1992.
After several years as a trio and touring with special guests, saxophonist Jeff Coffin
joined the Tones. Famed for a non-stop touring schedule, the Flecktones have reached
more than 500,000 audience members yearly from 2001 on.

Still releasing albums and touring, the Tones have garnered a strong and faithful
following among jazz and new acoustic fans. They have shared the stage with Dave
Mathews Band, Sting, Bonnie Raitt and the Grateful Dead, among many others, made
several appearances on The Tonight Show in the Johnny Carson days and the Jay Leno
days, as well as Arsenio Hall, and Conan O'Brian. Béla also appeared on Saturday Night
Live and David Letterman's show as well.

Although the first Flecktones albums were created live-in-the-studio, the group went on
to experiment with overdubs and guest artists on later albums, with contributions from
artists as diverse as Chick Corea, Bruce Hornsby, Branford Marsalis, John Medeski,
Andy Statman, the Alash Group and Dave Matthews. The Flecktones went on tour with
Dave Matthews Band in 1996 and 1997, and Fleck is featured on several tracks on
DMB's 1998 album "Before these Crowded Streets." In 2003, Béla Fleck & the
Flecktones released the landmark three-disc set "Little Worlds" simultaneously with a
highlights disc entitled Ten From Little Worlds.

In 2006 the band released The Hidden Land, which won the Grammy for Best
Contemporary Jazz Album in 2007.

In 2008, Jingle All The Way, the band's holiday album was released, and in 2009 it was
voted best Pop Instrumental Album at the Grammies.

Any world-class musician born with the names Béla (for Bartok), Anton (for Dvorak) and
LÈos (for Janacek) would seem destined to play classical music. Already a powerfully
creative force in bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and world beat, Béla at last made the classical
connection with "Perpetual Motion", his critically acclaimed 2001 Sony Classical
recording that went on to win a pair of Grammys, including Best Classical Crossover
Album, in the 44th annual Grammy Awards.

(Collaborating with Fleck on "Perpetual Motion" was his long time friend and colleague
Edgar Meyer, a bassist whose virtuosity defies labels and also an acclaimed composer. In
the wake of that album's release, Fleck & Meyer came up with the idea of a banjo/bass
duo, which they developed and refined during a concert tour of the US. Live recordings
from that tour are the basis for their latest Sony Classical recording "Music For Two"
which also includes a bonus DVD featuring a documentary film by Sascha Paladino
(Fleck's brother) that captures the duo's collaboration and crafting of repertoire while on
tour. Béla and Edgar also co-wrote and performed a double concerto for banjo, bass and
the Nashville Symphony, which debuted in November 2003.

The recipient of Multiple Grammy Awards going back to 1998, Béla Flecks' total
Grammy count is 14 Grammys won, and 30 nominations. He has been nominated in more
different categories than anyone in Grammy history.
Bela Fleck