Happy Birthday Bela Fleck: Live With The Flecktones In 2018

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Today marks Béla Fleck’s 62nd birthday. Born Béla Anton Leoš Fleck after composers Béla Bartók, Anton Webern and Leoš Janáček on July 10, 1958 In New York City, it may have been in the stars that Bela became a master musician. But rather than composing classical music right away, Fleck turned to the high and lonesome sounds of Appalachia.

Bela has said that he became interested in bluegrass when he heard Earl Scruggs pick the theme song for the Beverly Hillbillies on the banjo. He received a banjo for his 15th birthday and on the train ride home a man showed him how to tune it and suggested he pick up a banjo book by Pete Seeger. The stars were indeed aligning.

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Fleck would go on to have success with Sam Bush in New Grass Revival and in 1988 formed his own group after being asked to perform for the PBS program, Lonesome Pines. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones consisted of bassist Victor Wooten, harmonica player Howard Levy and Victor’s brother Roy “Futureman” Wooten who played a drum synthesizer of his own invention dubbed a drumitar. Virtuosic musicians all, Bela Fleck And The Flecktones quickly established that they were far more than a progressive bluegrass band.

As Bela’s compositions became more complex, The Flecktones broke free of the constraints of traditional bluegrass to facilitate the music. And what form is less constraining than jazz? The band’s 1990 self-titled debut nabbed a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Their second album, Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo, received the same distinction and also sat atop the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. While the band would go on to conquer pretty much any genre that comes to mind, jazz remained a constant for the quartet.

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So it’s no surprise that the band is at home at one of the most famous jazz festivals in the world, the Montreal International Jazz Festival. On July 1, 2018 Bela Fleck And The Flecktones treated Montreal to a set that kicked off with “Frontiers” from their self-titled debut and also contained old school favorites like “Flying Saucer Dudes” from Cosmic Hippo and “Magic Fingers” from 1992’s UFO Tofu but also newer songs from their 2011 album Rocket Science — recorded after the original lineup reunited when Howard Levy rejoined the band — like “Life In Eleven” as well as a movement from Bela’s 2017 classical composition Juno Concerto. Bela Fleck And The Flecktones closed out the set with two of their most well-known songs “The Sinister Minister” and “Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo.”

To celebrate Bela Fleck’s birthday, watch The Flecktones’ entire set from the 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival via Jazz And More below:

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Setlist:

  • Frontiers – 0:46
  • Flying Saucer Dudes – 7:45
  • Magic Fingers – 13:41
  • Mars Needs Women – 22:44
  • Sex in a Pan – 32:48
  • Life in Eleven – 42:02
  • “Futureman Solo” – 52:26
  • Hurricane Camille – 55:14
  • Sunset Road – 1:04:37
  • Juno – 1:16:03
  • The Sinister Minister – 1:23:03
  • Flight of the Cosmic Hippo – 1:32:18

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