Interview: Vic Wooten’s music lesson

Victor Wooten on Hilton Head: Home bass

(The Guide, 3/20/09)
Early in Victor Wooten’s novel “The Music Lesson,” the main character turns to the mysterious skateboard-riding teacher who has suddenly appeared in his home and asks, “What instrument do you play?”

The teacher responds, “I play music, not instruments.”

Wooten decided to write the novel a few years ago after overtures from friends that he finally put his legendary and innovative bass skills in print. Wooten knew they were looking for an instruction book, but he didn’t want to create a strict “method” for others to follow. A novel was more in line with his playing style, something that could be rhythmic and spiritual but also free-flowing and open for interpretation. It’s similar to why he incorporates musical thinking into other aspects of his life, from his martial arts lessons to the music and nature camp he holds every year.

Victor Wooten, J.D. Blair

When: 7 p.m. March 21

Where: Shoreline Ballroom, Ocean Center, 40 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head Island

Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

Information: 843-842-0358. www.shorelineballroom.com

That approach is what has made Wooten’s career stand out. His virtuosity has earned him acclaim as one of the best bassists of all time, and his time playing as a member of Bela Fleck’s Grammy-winning bluegrass-jazz band the Flecktones has brought his electric bass sounds into millions of ears over the years.

His latest album, 2008’s “Palmystery,” features fresh twists on jazz, gospel and afro-rhythms, which he’ll bring to the Shoreline Ballroom on Hilton Head Island on Saturday.

Like his book, Wooten’s music always has focused on getting a message across by embracing a holistic approach, sometimes forgoing lyrics.

“Moreso than tell stories, I like to create moods,” he said. “I like to create feelings in people. The moods make you reminisce and think, rather than tell you what to think. It’s just like scoring a movie: there’s certain types of things you can create with music, certain types of chords. For the most part I like to make people feel good.”

“I was the smallest”
Wooten grew up the youngest member of the family band. When Wooten was three, his brother took two strings off a guitar and put the instrument in his lap to begin teaching him to play. By the time he was five, he was touring with the band. “I always got the spotlight because I was the smallest,” he said.

The brothers’ band, even though young, always was a hit with crowds. “They were looking for a tape recorder because they don’t think we’re really playing,” Wooten said.

Wooten would quickly grow up to be one of the most respected bass players of all time. But it didn’t happen immediately. “Kids don’t like to practice,” he said. “Sometimes my friends would be outside playing and I’d be in a room learning bass parts. I could remember those days not wanting to do it. But when a song got together, it was worth it.”

With such high acclaim throughout his career, Wooten said he still feels pressure to innovate on his albums. But the biggest pressure, he said, is that which he puts on himself to keep the music and shows interesting for fans.

“I’ve made it a point to make each record I put out different from the last so the public doesn’t know what’s coming. I like that,” he said.

Wooten and the other members of the Flecktones have been performing fewer shows lately as each of their side projects becomes bigger (though the Flecktones will appear in Charleston in December). The band just passed its 20th anniversary, so Wooten said it can withstand a little downtime.

“It was such a different type of band that people had a thirst for it. For us musicians, it was just a blast.”

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