Jazz bassist Wooten answers classical call with BSO concerto debut
Victor Wooten had a simple answer when the classical world came calling to recruit him: No.
A bass guitar player who somehow manages to encompass Bootsy Collins’ groove, Eddie Van Halen’s virtuosity and Herbie Hancock’s inventiveness, Wooten could become a modern Rachmaninov. But he didn’t think he was ready. He was flattered and polite in saying no, but he also thought he was secure in his answer.
“A lot of classical musicians venture into the jazz world and it’s easy to hear that they aren’t natural at it,” Wooten told the Herald. “I didn’t want to be in that category. So my first thought was, ‘No.’ But eventually I rethought it and I told (violinist/composer) Conni (Ellisor) that I wanted to write it with her.”
The Nashville Symphony had asked Ellisor to write something for Wooten. But the bassist wanted to write for himself while getting help from someone with experience in that world. The Ellisor/Wooten collaboration, “The Bass Whisper” concerto, debuted in 2015. It was such a success, Wooten wanted to try his hand at composing for a symphony on his own.
From Thursday to Oct. 31, Wooten will join the Boston Symphony Orchestra for his concerto “La Leccion Tres.” Thomas Wilkins will conduct Wooten’s BSO debut on a program that will include Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s “The Song of Hiawatha” and Duke Ellington’s 1970 ballet “The River.”
“I want to bring two worlds together, my jazz audience and the classical audience, who knows nothing about me,” Wooten said.
Wooten’s jazz audience is substantial.
Because his older brothers are all musicians, he started playing bass guitar as he learned to walk and talk. Eventually, banjo king Bela Fleck recruited Wooten for his bluegrass/jazz fusion project, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Wooten went on to make a series of groundbreaking solo records, collaborate with a long list of jazz innovators, win five Grammys and be named Bass Player of the Year three times by Bass Player magazine.
His astounding resume however, does not make him a natural in the classical world. Wooten says he knows when he performs with a symphony that he “speaks with an accent.” And that’s just fine.
“Like when I learn a new language, I know I need to respect the rules of that language,” Wooten said. “But, hey, accents are cool, right? I love accents. But I need to make sure I am speaking correctly.”
He has immense respect for all kinds of music but also feels that making great art is about pushing boundaries and that can mean crashing styles together.
“That’s why the (classical world) called me in the first place,” Wooten said. “They know it’s going to be different. But different doesn’t have to mean better or worse. Well, OK, I definitely don’t want to be worse. But I’m not attempting to be better. I am attempting to write a piece that’s me.”