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Bela Fleck Biography

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Birth Name: Béla Anton Leoš Fleck
Born: 1958/07/10
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Years Active: 1976–present
Genres: Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Bluegrass, Folk, Classical

Béla Fleck (born Béla Anton Leoš Fleck, July 10, 1958) is an American banjo player. Widely acknowledged as one of the world's most innovative and technically proficient banjo players, he is best known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Fleck was born in New York City, and is named after Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, Austrian composer Anton Webern and Czech composer Leoš Janáček. He was drawn to the banjo when he first heard Earl Scruggs play the theme song for the television show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” He received his first banjo at age 15 from his grandfather in 1973. Later, Fleck enrolled in New York City's High School of Music and Art where he studied the French horn. He was a banjo student under Tony Trischka.

Shortly after high school, Fleck traveled to Boston to play with Jack Tottle, Pat Enright, and Mark Schatz in the group Tasty Licks. During this period, Fleck released his first solo album in 1979, “Crossing the Tracks,” and made his first foray into progressive bluegrass composition.

Fleck played on the streets of Boston with bassist Mark Schatz. Along with guitarist/vocalist Glen Lawson and mandolin great Jimmy Gaudreau, they formed Spectrum in 1981. Fleck toured with Spectrum during 1981. That same year, Sam Bush asked Fleck to join New Grass Revival. Fleck performed with New Grass Revival for nine years. During this time, Fleck recorded another solo album, “Drive.” It was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1988 in the new category of Best Bluegrass Album.

During the 1980s Fleck and Bush also performed live occasionally with Doc Watson and Merle Watson in various bluegrass festivals, most notably the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Fleck and Victor Wooten formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988, along with keyboardist and harmonica player Howard Levy and Wooten's percussionist brother Roy “Future Man” Wooten, who played synthesizer-based percussion. They recorded numerous albums, most notably “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo,” their second album, which reached #1 on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart, and found increased popularity among jazz/rock/fusion fans.

Levy left the group in 1992, making the band a trio until saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the group onstage in 1997. His first studio recording with the band was their 1998 album “Left of Cool.” Coffin left the group in 2008 to replace Dave Matthews Band's saxophonist, LeRoi Moore. Howard Levy rejoined the Flecktones in 2009. Fleck and the original Flecktones went on to record “Rocket Science,” and tour in 2011. With the Flecktones, Fleck has been nominated for and won several Grammy awards.

Fleck has also shared Grammy wins with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown, and Edgar Meyer. He has been nominated in more categories than any other musician, namely country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition and arranging.

In 2001, Fleck collaborated with long-time friend and playing-partner Edgar Meyer to record “Perpetual Motion,” an album of classical material played on the banjo along with an assortment of accompanists, including John Williams, Evelyn Glennie, Joshua Bell and Gary Hoffman. “Perpetual Motion” won two Grammys at the Grammy Awards of 2002 for Best Classical Crossover Album and Best Arrangement for Fleck and Meyer's arrangement of “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum.” Fleck and Meyer have also composed a double concerto for banjo and bass, and performed its debut with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

He has also appeared as a sideman with artists ranging from Tony Rice to Dave Matthews Band to Ginger Baker and Phish. In 2005, while the Flecktones were on hiatus, Fleck undertook several new projects: recording with African traditional musicians; cowriting a documentary film called “Bring it Home” about the Flecktones' first year off in 17 years and their reunion after that time; coproducing “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” the debut album by Abigail Washburn (a young banjo player who mixes bluegrass and Chinese music and would later become his wife); forming the acoustic fusion supergroup Trio! with fellows Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke, and recording an album as a member of the Sparrow Quartet (along with Washburn, Ben Sollee, and Casey Driessen).

In late 2006, Fleck teamed up with Chick Corea to record an album, “The Enchantment,” released in May 2007. Fleck and Corea toured together throughout 2007. As a follow-up to the Fleck/Meyer double concerto mentioned above, the two were commissioned for a trio concerto, for which they teamed up with Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain. It debuted in Nashville in 2006 and was later recorded for an album, “The Melody of Rhythm.” The trio subsequently toured together in 2009 and 2010.