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Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

(L to R) Victor Wooten, Béla Fleck, Jeff Coffin, and Futureman
Background information
Genres Bluegrass, jazz fusion
Years active 1988–present
Labels Warner Bros. (1990–1999)
Columbia/Sony BMG (2000–present)
Béla Fleck
Victor Wooten
Future Man
Jeff Coffin
Former members
Howard Levy (1988–1992, 2009)

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is a primarily instrumental group from the United States, that draws equally on bluegrass, fusion and jazz, sometimes dubbed "blu-bop". The band formed in 1988, initially to perform once on the PBS series Lonesome Pine Specials. The Flecktones have toured extensively since then, often playing over 200 concerts per year. Each of the current members of the quartet has released at least one solo album. The band's name is a play on the name of the 1960s rock band Dick Dale and the Del-Tones.



Frontman Béla Fleck plays acoustic and electric banjos, mixing a bluegrass and folk sound into a modern improvisational style. Fleck has received Grammy nominations for performances in the jazz, bluegrass, pop, spoken word, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, and country categories, which is more categories than any other musician.[1] Bela Fleck’s musical styles go past the instrument and embody the person. He finds it important to make himself uncomfortable and to put himself in unfamiliar places like Africa in his “Throw down your heart” movie. He does not like to be prepared, thus forcing himself to come up with music under pressure. He believes that improvisation is a key to genius in a way, in a way similar to Erik Satie’s personality.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones use bluegrass, fusion of jazz, or anything else that catches their interest. They leave their music open to inspiration and have recently been incorporating a lot of African instruments. Because of the great variety in music Fleck has been nominated for awards in jazz, bluegrass, pop, spoken word, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, and country categories. Some Grammy awards include the 1995 Best Country Instrumental performance, 1996 Best Pop Instrumental performance, 1998 Best Instrumental Composition, 2000 Best contemporary Jazz Album, 2001 Best Instrumental Arrangement, 2006 Best Contemporary Jazz Album, and 2008 Best Pop Instrumental Album. Because they adopt so many musical styles it is hard to place Bela Fleck and the Flecktones into a single musical category and just as their music is diverse, so is their audience. The largest category under which the group can be and has been categorized is bluegrass music. This is music that is a product of industrial age and is derived from folk music and has global followers.

Brothers Victor Wooten and Roy "Future Man" Wooten form the rhythm section. Victor Wooten is widely lauded in jazz and bass-playing circles for his sometimes hyperkinetic slap and pop technique on bass guitar, and many consider him the leading bass virtuoso in music today. Futureman – the group’s percussionist created the “drumitar” (a modified SynthAxe rigged to play percussion samples instead of a synthesizer), which is his innovation and contribution to the music.

Membership in the Flecktones has changed little since the band released its eponymous first album. Harmonica and keyboard player Howard Levy appeared on the Flecktones' first three albums. After Levy's departure, Fleck and the Wooten Brothers regrouped on the album Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the title a reference to Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the band beginning with the album Left of Cool.

The band went on an amicable year-long hiatus throughout 2005, during which the individual members toured frequently in other configurations. The Flecktones were active and touring again in 2006.

Wooten was also a judge for the 4th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers. [2]

On September 30, 2008, the band released Jingle All the Way, their new holiday album. It received critical praise as well as one Grammy Award and one nomination in 2009.

Bela Feck’s motivation for going to Africa was to discover the origins of the banjo, an African instrument. He wanted to break down the stereotype that it is a white man’s instrument/music. He was also trying to discover the original banjo prototype there. Released in 2009, “Throw Down Your Heart” is a film about Bela Fleck’s travels to Africa to explore the roots of the banjo and to record an album with African musicians. While in Africa Fleck travels through Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali where he overcomes cultural and language obstacles through music.[3]

The Flecktones are currently touring with founding member and harmonica player Howard Levy for the first time in 18 years under the moniker "Béla Fleck and the Original Flecktones." They will eventually continue the tour with current member Jeff Coffin.[4]

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and Modernism

In music, modernism seeks to express a dissatisfaction with the status quo, challenge societal norms, and generally reject past or common musical practice. This often includes the incorporation of and blending of different styles, blurring genre lines, creating and employing technical innovation, and experimenting with new ideas.

The music of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones can be seen as modernist in many respects. Firstly, the Flecktones music draws on a number of genres including jazz, funk, world music, and bluegrass.[5] These styles are mixed into a fusion that is difficult to classify or label, creating a totally unique listening experience. According to bandleader and banjo player Fleck, “We are excited by so many different kinds of music-it has been hard to restrict ourselves. We don't think much about crossover appeal in terms of the ‘biz,’ but we do want our music to reach out to people."[6] This blending of styles and resistance to being labeled is an expression of the band’s dissatisfaction with the existing musical institution's ability to fulfill their musical desires. This rejection of existing musical institutions is similar to Erik Satie’s rejection of traditional conservatory training and concert hall performance. The Flecktones’ music also pushes genre boundaries by incorporating two African American band members. In traditional American bluegrass African Americans are not involved. In having an integrated band, Fleck challenges the label of banjo-oriented music as the white musician’s domain.[7]

Additionally, the Flecktones’ music lacks vocals in the vast majority of songs. This feature of the music goes directly against modern popular music traditions, expressing again a dissatisfaction with the musical status quo. According to Fleck, "It allows the listener to have a different experience, more personal I think because people have been making instrumental music for a long time, and for good reason. Removing vocals from the equation allows the listener to have his own interpretation of what the music means." In this sense, Fleck’s attitude towards musical experience is akin to that of John Cage, whose music showed that listeners should have unique, different, and personal experiences with music.

Another example of musical modernism is found in the non-traditional use of instruments by band members. The banjo is traditionally used in the genres of country and bluegrass. By expanding the use of the instrument far outside of its traditional genre, Fleck is blurring the lines between genres, and challenging what the traditional role of the instrument is.

Futureman, the Flecktones’ percussionist, has created a hybrid instrument that he calls the Drumitar. The drumitar is guitar-shaped a midi trigger device that allows him to play the drums with his fingers in addition to other various sampled sounds.[8] This instrument, akin to John Cage’s prepared piano or Ornette Coleman’s plastic saxophone, is a unique variation on a drum machine, and challenges existing ideas of what a percussion instrument is. This new instrument pushes the musical envelope through technical innovation, and is further evidence of modernism in the Flecktones’ music.


Flecktones at the Hollywood Circle with feature-guest Mike Marshall instead of Jeff Coffin

Grammy awards


  1. ^ Béla Fleck, Official Biography
  2. ^ Independent Music Awards - Past Judges
  3. ^ Paladino, Sascha. "synopsis of the film." Thrown Down Your Heart. Available from Internet; accessed 8 December 2009
  4. ^
  5. ^ Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. 2007. Flecktones Tours, LCC. 10 Nov. 2007 <>.
  6. ^ "The Flecktones bring tour back to the U.S. - Variety." The Red and Black. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <>.
  7. ^ Rosenberg, Neil V. "From the Sound Recordings Review Editor: Bluegrass Today." JSTOR, 1992. Web. 8 Nov. 2009. <>.
  8. ^ “Bela Fleck & Toumani Diabate – Bonnaroo – Artists.” Bonnaroo. Web. 03 Dec. 2009 <>/. Béla Fleck: Biography "TOP CLASSICAL ALBUMS™." Billboard 121, no. 38 (September 26, 2009): 53. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost SHAVE, NICK. "KARMA CHAMELEON." Strad 119, no. 1420 (August 2008): 48-52. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost Horgan, Candace. "TRIO! Sound." Mix 29, no. 13 (December 2005): 80-82. Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost

External links



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