Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Interview transcript: Bela Fleck (Part 1)

Banjo superstar Bela Fleck talks with "The Beat" about his upcoming gig at The Sunset Center in Carmel.
Fleck is scheduled to perform June 23 with composer Edgar Meyer and classical Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain. For tickets, visit www.sunsetcenter.org.

Where are you calling from?
Believe it or not, I'm at a laundry mat in Glenside, Pennsylvania. I just really like going to laundromats when I have time off (laughs) I'm at the point of the tour where I ran out of clothes. So while they're setting up the sound and stuff, I'm doing my laundry.
We're playing in Glenside, Pennsylvania. It's called the Keswick Theater. I've been playing her for years. It's a good place.

Have you been out this way to the Monterey Peninsula?
I'm not sure if I ever have. I'm not really sure. I don't think I've ever played Carmel itself. I've been in that general region before, but never in Carmel

Tell me about your work with Zakir and Edgar, and where you guys are at on the tour and what it's been like playing this recent round of gigs.
It's been great. We haven't done it enough to have it remotely be normal for anybody. But yet, it' feels so comfortable and fun. They're both great guys and incredibly inspiring to play with.
This will be our third show on this trip, but the last time we played was September and October. That's when we actually did our first real touring together. It's sort of like a fresh start when you play again. You kind of pick up where you left off. In a certain way, you're trying to relearn everything and get it all back under your hands. But there's something that steps up and goes to the next level as well, so we're all enjoying that, the freshness of it. Feeling new again. It still is pretty new. We've only toured a couple of months so far, and then we're going to be touring all summer. So it's like the beginning of the main touring we're going to be doing together.
The music itself, there's a lot of improv and a lot of structure as well. When you're improvising a lot, the show is only good as the improvisation. You want to get your head around everything. You want to figure out how you want to play each song, what you're going for to make each song different. That's my personal goal, because I have a lot of solos, more than I deserve, but since there's bass and tabla, I tend to always have a solo, and my goal is to figure out how to make them all different from each other.

Talk about the dynamic of the three of you. Edgar would appear to be from a disciplined corner being a composer. Zakir on tabla would appear to be more rooted in improv, and you are like a bridge. How does that play on stage?
I think Zakir may even be the most trained of us, because he went through intense training starting as a young child from his father, who is one of the greatest tabla players ever. And so Indian music, although it's highly improvised, is highly, highly trained. In other words, they're trained with the tools it will take to improvise in a glorious manner. He has stuff in his DNA that is beyond anything Edgar or I will ever be able to play or understand. And I'm serious. I'm not being coy or self-effacing.
By the same token, Edgar has that kind of information, from western classical music and he has just created his own creative, compositional gifts. He also has a lot of information that Zakir and I don't possess. And he contributes to the thing that makes it different from other things that Zakir has done
For me, I've played withe Edgar before, so I've been privy to that information. But not in this context. Not in a rhythmic context with an incredible lion of percussion and rhythm.
And what I add... I'm not exactly sure what I add (laughs). My instrument is a banjo, and I've been trying to play it and soak up as much information from all kinds of musical worlds for so long, that it all kind of globs together into just being me. And that's what I have to add to it. As an improviser, I'm probably more comfortable improvising than playing set music. But this music challenges all of us in different ways, and yet it's not so much that anybody is overwhelmed. The amount of challenge is very welcome.

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