Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bela Fleck

Whereas, over the months since this blog went online, I have focused on websites that offered up legal free music, this time around I am going to mix things up and focus on a specific musician. In keeping with the mission of this blog, it is, of course, a musician who permits a large quantity of his work to go online, creative-commons free.

Bela Fleck. Not a very common name. He takes his name from the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and he plays the banjo. Since age 15 or so. And he does it rather well. In fact, Bela is aclaimed as the most innovative banjo player in America and boasts a collection of Grammy nominations and awards.

His name is most often associated with that of the group he co-founded in '88 with Victor Wooten and others - eponymously named "Bela Fleck and the Flecktones", but he has played with a number of other names you've likely heard mentioned, including Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, Jean-Luc Ponty & Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea and Toumani Diabate. You can also find him at Youtube playing with Earl Sruggs as well as Steve Martin! As you'll note from this list, he covers a diverse set of genres: the man does ethnic, jazz, classical, folk/bluegrass and more. His personal website is and you can find the flecktones at

So ... why does such an accomplished musician give his music away? In the FAQ section of the Flecktones website, they are fairly clear about their policy:if you catch them in concert, audio taping is OK if it doesnt hinder anything, but video taping is not allowed. As a result, you can find a large collection of Flecktones recordings at, among other online sources.

Here is the youtube clip with Steve Martin:

And here is the clip with Earl Scruggs:

My favorite piece, however, is Sunset Road, and although there are a plethora of versions at the Internet Archive, my favorite is the one below. Regardless of the version, I like the build up in the song: the climax with the impossibly fast banjo picking merely proves the man's unique gift. In particular, it is the section that starts at about 5'30" - the crescendo and then the release/come down after the solo seem to me to be perfection in style. Seems to have been recorded at the Molson Center in Montreal in 2002.

Sunset Road

Note: after the fact, it occurs to me that many files hosted at YouTube are not necessarily legal. In fact, in this case, where the Flecktones specifically say that sound recordings are OK but video is not, it calls into question how and from where the above video links stay online. Seems to me that this is not a discsussion for this time and place, but since this blog aims to provide "legal free music", it is an issue that needs to be raised.