Just in case you aren't familiar with Béla Fleck, there are some who say he's the world’s premier banjo player. Others claim that Béla has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map and on a range of solo projects and collaborations. If you are familiar with Béla, you know that he just loves to play the banjo, often reimagining it in unique settings.
The 15-time Grammy Award winner has been nominated in more categories than any other artist in Grammy history, and remains a powerfully creative force globally in bluegrass, jazz, classical pop, rock and world beat.
His groundbreaking quartet Béla Fleck & The Flecktones are celebrating 30 years with a North American tour in the summer of 2018. Fleck and his wife Abigail Washburn took home the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album, and released the acclaimed follow up LP Echo in the Valley in 2017.
The impact of fatherhood sparked Juno Concerto, a piece for banjo and orchestra, recorded with the Colorado Symphony and conducted by José Luis Gomez. Companion pieces to the Juno Concerto include “Griff” (G riff), featuring Béla with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, and the second movement of 1984’s “Quintet for Banjo and Strings.” Recorded here for the first time in 2016, the piece was co-written with friend and mentor, Edgar Meyer and was Béla’s first foray into classical music.
“For Juno Concerto, I wanted to take what I had learned from writing and performing my first concerto and apply it here,” says Béla, who unveiled The Juno Concerto, performing it with co-commissioners the Canton, Colorado, South Carolina and Louisville symphony orchestras. “My first concerto The Impostor was written in 2011 and now that it was performed over 50 times, I’ve had the chance to observe what I like and what I think could be different. This time I wanted to improve my writing for the orchestra, to create more and better slow music, and for the solo parts to focus on flow and things that come naturally to the banjo, rather than attempting to do the nearly impossible, constantly.”
Any world-class musician born with the names Béla (for Bartok), Anton (for Dvorak) and Leos (for Janacek) would seem destined to play classical music. Fleck made the classical connection with Perpetual Motion, his critically acclaimed 2001 Sony Classical recording that went on to win a pair of Grammys, including Best Classical Crossover Album. Collaborating with Fleck on Perpetual Motion was his long time friend and colleague, Edgar Meyer, an amazing bassist/composer whose virtuosity defies labels. Béla and Edgar co-wrote and performed a double concerto for banjo, bass and the Nashville Symphony, which debuted in November 2003.
In 2006, Nashville Symphony was looking for composers that were members of the community to create a piece to commemorate the opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. They chose Béla and Edgar, who created The Melody of Rhythm, a triple concerto for banjo, bass and tabla, in collaboration with world-renowned tabla virtuoso, Zakir Hussain.
In 2009, Béla produced the award-winning documentary and recordings, Throw Down Your Heart, where he journeyed across Africa to research the origins of the banjo.
In 2011, Fleck premiered his first stand-alone banjo concerto, The Impostor, with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, who commissioned the work. It was followed by the companion documentary, How to Write a Banjo Concerto. The Impostor has now been performed over 50 times worldwide.
These days, Fleck bounces between various intriguing touring situations: he performs his concertos worldwide, collaborates in a duo with Chick Corea and a trio with Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer. He performs in concert with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, in banjo duet with Abigail Washburn, banjo and mandolin duet with Chris Thile, and occasionally back to bluegrass with his old friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton and others. He collaborates with African artists such as Oumou Sangare and Toumani Diabate, in a jazz setting with The Marcus Roberts Trio, and - with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, who continue to perform together 30 years after the band’s inception. Béla has recently accepted a commission to create his third concerto, which premiered 2018 in New Orleans.