Music thoughts from Bela Fleck

You can’t get them excited 12 times in a row in a year, so if I have something that I’m really passionate about, I want to record it beautifully, get a version of it that is highly representative not only of what it is, but of what I want it to become. — Bela Fleck

Given the space issues that crop up when we do arts features in Jewish News, we tend to focus on a single angle, but many times the interviews with musicians and authors and the like are far ranging affairs that offer some interesting ideas that don’t fit into the piece.

If you’ve already read the preview article I wrote on Bela Fleck’s show coming up next Wednesday evening (if you haven’t, check out Fleck trek: To boldly go where no banjo has gone before when you’re done here), you might be interested to know his thinking on the value of making albums as opposed to performing live, especially in the age of streaming music and music downloads.

Jewish News: I know that it’s affected people who are primarily recording artists and you’re more of a live performer who documents some of what he does, but has the change in the delivery of recorded music affected much of your thinking about how you approach that?

Bela Fleck: Well, yes and no. I don’t expect the records to sell as much as they once did, but I still think the idea of being really clear and not offering too many things all at once is wise. It fits the public perception. Because of the way people’s minds work, you can wear people out. I remember that this one year [when] Wynton Marsalis put out 12 records in one year — and I think that it was artistically an amazing thing to do — but I think it was hard for people. Some of them [the recordings] didn’t move at all and a few of them did, but I know the promotion team, I don’t want to talk in terms of marketing and stuff like that, but the truth is that it’s confusing. It’s hard on people.

You can’t get them Bela Fleckexcited 12 times in a row in a year, so if I have something that I’m really passionate about, I want to record it beautifully, get a version of it that is highly representative not only of what it is, but of what I want it to become. In other words, I worked so hard on that recording that it’s better than what I can do at the moment, and then I grow into it, and by the end of that year, I can play that music way better than the recording and I’ve stood behind it and grown in the process, had the growth to perform it, and taught the audience about it too.

So there’s that, but also the fact that I’m performing in a lot of different settings could be confusing as well, but it’s just sort of working out that way, because the Flecktones, when we perform, is a full-time occupation, and so when we stop all of these other projects that have been sitting waiting kind of come forward and beg for attention, and it makes me a better musician to be this diverse, to be playing with a lot of different musicians. So while it’s good for the general public for you to stick to one thing that they can understand and build a relationship with it, it’s actually good for musicians to do a lot of things and stay fresh. I’m trying to balance all of those things at the same time.

JN: Well, it sounds like you have it really well thought out. I hadn’t thought about how you put out something like a record and it be better than what you can actually do live at that time and then growing into it – I’d never thought about that before.

BF: Well, that’s the main reason to make records for me.

JN: I see.

BF: Otherwise, just play live. You can put out a live recording of what you’re playing it like today and that could be quite good or it could suck, one or the other or somewhere in between, graded by your perspective obviously, or you can go in the studio and practice like crazy and record like crazy and work on it till you’ve created basically an artifact. You know, that’s an optimum idea of what you wish you could play it like, and the odd thing about that is that after you’ve lived with that document for a little while, you can play it that way. But you couldn’t play it that way unless you went through that process. So I use recordings both as a way to create an optimum version of the music that I can grow into — really most of what the audience hears is an idealization of what you wished it would sound like — but even more so, so that I will eventually sound like that, so that every record can be a growth process that forces me to really learn this music and not slough it off or, you know, let things slide.

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