LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE
Roses are reddish
Violets are bluish
If it weren't for Christmas
We'd all be Jewish.
Benny Hill (1924 - 1992) English comedian
Celt In A Twist: At Berklee College of Music, excellence in musicianship is king, and one band is venerated above all others. Theyre not rockers, poppers or hip hoppers, they are Bela Fleck and The Flecktones; a banjo- based outfit that shatters all preconceptions about bluegrass and takes instrumental innovation to dizzying new heights. For the holiday season, theyve recorded Jingle All The Way, a singular triumph of improvisation and without question one of the most stunning contemporary Christmas albums Ive ever heard. Bela Fleck joins us by phone. The best of the season to you Bela.
Bela Fleck: Thank you. Same to you.
CIAT: First things first, Im an avid bass player and crazy for all things Rickenbacker. Where on earth did you find a Rickenbacker banjo, or did the factory make one special for you?
I think the
Rickenbacker banjo was made in the sixties and there's an instrument
CIAT: Definitely one of the coolest things I've seen! Jingle All The Way is a collection of the most standardized of holiday standards weve all heard from birth. Was that the challenge for you guys; to take these roasted chestnuts and see how far you could re-imagine them?
BF: That was the challenge. That was why we did it because we knew it would be a lot of fun. Like, alto of times, songs that have been in your consciousness so deep, provide opportunities after they've been in there for a while. Ya, we were just looking for all the juicy stuff we could do with them.
CIAT: You were obviously destined for musical acclaim, being named after Bela Bartok. The kicker for me is that you fell in love with the banjo, as I and many others of our vintage did, after listening to Earl Scruggs pick out the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies. What was it about that sound that caught you?
You know, he has had
that impact on a lot of people. I wouldn't say that anybody since Earl
that impact, where somebody hears the sound of this guy playing and
have to stop their car or they have to go find a banjo ... find out
is. It's just so compelling. He's a deep and powerful musician. I'm
to be living about a mile from him here in
CIAT: Youve won what, 13 Grammies, more nominations than you can probably remember, and youve surrounded yourself with other extraordinary players. Tell us about Victor Wooten. Hes one of my all time favorite bass players.
BF: a, it's been fun with Victor because really, when he started , he was a baby, a new guy, and I had already been on the bluegrass scene for ten years and as time has gone by, I think he is more well-known than I am. He's become a super-star bass player on the scene. He's won Bass Player Magazine's Bass Player of the Year more than anybody probably by now. He's just a genius. he plays the bass in such a musical way that some times it sounds like three basses; sometimes it's the funkiest thing you ever heard, sometimes it's modern but it's always got a lotta heart and a lotta feel.
CIAT: He certainly sets the bar high.
BF: Yes he does, but he's a good guy. you can hear it in his playing.
Youve got your
Celt In A Twist with Bela Fleck. If youre looking for inspiration this
Christmas, be there with bells on when The Flecktones perform Jingle
Way at The Chan Centre in
BF: Maybe so. He's a mad inventor/genius -type. He came up with this idea, being a drummer, that he would like to have the drums in his hands and walk around the stage. Around the time drum machines came into modern usage, he make that leap; that there could be an instrument design that he could wear where he could play all his sounds on his drum machine. But, the main problem is that the drum machines weren't sensitive. You hear the snare and it's BANG! You couldn't play it subtly like a jazz drummer and shade it with different colours. So he figured out how to do that. And, he built and instrument that was incredibly sensitive where he could play so quiet you could hardly hear it and then take our head off with power, and he figured out how to make the sounds go into each other so as he played it harder , the tones changed and it was just an amazing accomplishment. because when you hear him play it's just the most amazing drumming that you ever heard but the sound is a little different. And, now when you see him play live he plays half acoustic and half electric. So, he's got the electric instrument on and he can put down a stick and walk around the stage with that one, but he also likes to stand next to a half-drum kit and play it with one hand while he plays electric drums with the other hand. He's truly and odd, wonderful musician.
CIAT: Boy, those Wooten's sure dipped deep into the gene pool didn't they?
BF: Ya, they really did. There are actually five brothers and they all are musical geniuses.
CIAT: And, we should also hear about Jeff Coffin on wind instruments.
BF: Jeff is just an incredible wind player and with us he ends up playing flute, clarinet, he plays baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano, sax , so we have a saxophone player but we really have a bunch of instrumentalists. The songs can have a different sound. If we want this song to have a flute because it's not a horn sound at all, or if we want a clarinet to get an old fashioned sound ... you know, that sort of thing. When Dave Matthews Band lost their saxophone player when LeRoi Moore died, they replaced him with Jeff. So, now Jeff is full-time with the Dave Matthews Band and luckily we could get him for this tour.
CIAT: There are so many outstanding moments on this disc and were going to share as man as we can through the holidays. I love your treatment of Linus and Lucy by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, Sleigh Ride and The Christmas Song are amazing, but well round out this interview with the opener, Jingle Bells featuring the Alash Ensemble of Tuvan throat singers. How did this collaboration come about?
This is an
interesting story. For folks who don't know what a Tuvan Throat singer
about, he's a person from western Siberia who has learned to sing
at one time with his his throat. And, there's four of them we're
a group of four throat singers. It's an unearthly sound; truly
what humans can do when they start young. We met them because the
famous throat singer, a guy named Kongar-ool
Ondar, came to the
Bela Fleck was interviewed, November 23rd, 2010