What: Béla Fleck & the Flecktones
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030
Cost: Sold Out (tickets on StubHub)
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Ogden Theater, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-832-1874
Béla Fleck has been very, very busy. All the time. It seems like he’s hardly paused since his solo debut in 1979, but let’s fast-forward. In 2009, he released Throw Down Your Heart, an album that was the product collaborations around Africa. He’s since had his hands full and fingers picking with a collaboration with Marcus Roberts, writing a banjo concerto, and reuntiting with the Flecktones. Fleck put those valuable fingers to the keyboard to answer a few questions for us via email.
It’s been a little while since you made Throw Down Your Heart, but can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
Sure. That was an amazing trip. I went to Uganda, Tanzania, the Gambia and Mali to play with acoustic musicians. It was the best! We carried a film crew and recorded it all, put out a film and two CDs. Then we toured it for two years, and I was able to bring some of the best African musicians over to play. We had a blast. Most folks have forgotten that the banjo came from Africa.
How are you liking playing with the Flecktones again? And how long had it been since you last worked together?
It is so wonderful to be together. And it is precious, because our year together will come to an end in a few more weeks and it will be some years before we can do this again. It is resulting in some of the best shows we’ve ever done.
The ‘new’ element is the return of harmonica god Howard Levy (who also brings his amazing piano skills back to the band). Victor Wooten and Future Man and I have been together now for 24 years, but Howard left in 1992. When Jeff Coffin joined up with Dave Matthews Band, after the death of their sax player Leroi Moore, it left a hole, which we decided to turn into an opportunity.
The magic of the original band is back.
Tell me about the banjo concerto. It seems like a pretty one-of-a-kind thing.
It was my first time writing a piece for orchestra without my “big brother” Edgar Meyer watching out for me. I have written two concertos with Edgar, which was a master class for me.
This time I did it my own way, and created the banjo concerto, which was commissioned and premiered by the Nashville Symphony. It was filmed and recorded and will be released on a major classical label next year.
I will be able to play the piece a good bit over the next few years with different orchestras. Denver is a strong possibility.
The piece is dedicated to Earl Scruggs, who attended the premiere. Earl passed away last week, at 88 years old. He was a hero and a friend. He has changed the world for a lot of people.
Next you’re touring with the album you worked on with the Marcus Roberts Trio. Tell me about that project.
I have loved Marcus Roberts’ playing since I first heard him with Wynton Marsalis‘ band of the 1980’s. He is jazz pianist that is deeply rooted in early jazz and classical music but is thoroughly modern at the same time. And his trio is fantastic. Banjo fits very well with his sound.
We made an album in December and it will be released in June. It’s called “Across the Imaginary Divide.” I am very pleased with how it turned out. People are going to love it, I predict. I do!
Anything else going on these days?
I am writing music for banjo and string quartet, and looking forward to playing some bluegrass soon!
Long live Earl Scruggs.