In anticipation of the upcoming Chick Corea and Béla Fleck show on April 22 at the Orpheum Theatre, we picked banjo legend Béla Fleck's brain on the history of jazz banjo, what it's like to play with personal hero Chick Corea, and the importance of family.
CJ: You have stated that Chick Corea is a personal inspiration of yours, especially regarding Return to Forever. Do you feel like this affects the way you play together?
BF: In every collaboration, there is a different hierarchy, and it usually is connected to age. We should revere our elders, especially since some of them can kick our asses. Chick Corea and Zakir Hussain fall in that category for me, folk that are a bit older than me, and folk who have contributed to the furtherance of artistic and powerful music for a long time. We function as equals, but I am there to learn from Chick, and hopefully soak up some things. It’s a great honour and very eye opening to hang around with your heroes.
CJ: What is your favourite spot on the planet?
BF: Anywhere that my wife and 3-year-old boy are. We travel a lot for music, and it behooves us to enjoy where we are at any given moment, especially since we’re almost always somewhere (that was particularly deep, I’m very proud).
CJ: Has having a banjo player as a spouse affected you or inspired you to try anything new with your own playing?
BF: Abby has pulled me back towards traditional music, and I appreciate her creating a space where I can feel creative in that world again.
CJ: What do you aspire to do with the sound of the banjo in a jazz context?
BF: I’m trying to become a more complete musician in all areas. In jazz, there’s a Zen to improvisation. Perfection of expression is a moving target, and one day I’m nailing it - but on the next I feel like a rank beginner. I’d like to manage my own approach to it so that I felt more able to dive off the cliff with no fear.
CJ: Is there a piece of advice that you have found to be particularly influential on you?
BF: Practice slowly.
Learn one thing from every musician you work with.
Don’t eat the brown M&M’s.