In-depth Biography Premier banjo player Béla Fleck is considered one of the most innovative pickers in the world and has done much to demonstrate the versatility of his instrument, which he uses to play everything from traditional bluegrass to progressive jazz. He was named after composer Béla Bartok and was born in New York City. Around age 15, Fleck became fascinated with the banjo after hearing Flatt & Scruggs' "Ballad of Jed Clampett" and Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell's "Dueling Banjos," and his grandfather soon gave him one. While attending the High School of Music and Art in New York, Fleck worked on adapting bebop music for the banjo.
Fleck always had diverse musical interests, and his own style was influenced by Tony Trischka, Earl Scruggs, Chick Corea, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, the Allman Brothers, Aretha Franklin, the Byrds, and Little Feat. After graduation, he joined the Tasty Licks, a group from Boston. They recorded two albums and dissolved in 1979. Afterwards, Fleck joined the Kentucky band Spectrum. That year, only five years after he took up the instrument, he made his solo recording debut with Crossing the Tracks, which the Readers' Poll in Frets magazine named Best Overall Album. In 1982, he joined New Grass Revival and stayed with them until the end of the decade. During this time, his reputation continued to grow and in 1990, Frets magazine added his name to their Hall of Greats. In 1988, one of his compositions, "Drive" (from the album New Grass Revival), was nominated for a Grammy.
Fleck, mandolin player Sam Bush, fiddler Mark O'Connor, bassist Edgar Meyer, and Dobro player Jerry Douglas teamed up in 1989 to form Strength in Numbers and record The Telluride Sessions. Late that year, Fleck was asked by PBS television to play on the upcoming Lonesome Pine Special; in response he gathered together a veritable "dream team" of musicians to form the Flecktones. The original members included Howard Levy, who played piano, harmonica, and ocarina, among other instruments; bass guitarist Victor Lemonte Wooten, and his brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten on the drumitar, an electronic drum shaped like a guitar. Though the special wasn't aired until 1992, the Flecktones recorded their eponymous debut album in 1990 and followed it up with Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (1991).
In 1993, they released their third album, UFO Tofu, which featured music blending different genres ranging from bluegrass to R&B to worldbeat. In 1995, they released Tales from the Acoustic Planet; Left of Cool followed in 1998, and Tales from the Acoustic Planet 2: The Bluegrass Sessions was released a year later. Outbound followed in mid-2000. Busy and prolific, Fleck released an album of classical pieces, Perpetual Motion, in late 2001, followed by Live at the Quick in 2002, the ambitious double-disc Little Worlds (and its truncated single-disc version, Ten from Little Worlds) in 2003, and Music for Two (with bassist Edgar Meyer) in 2004. Hidden Land, another album with the Flecktones, appeared on Columbia Records in 2006. ~ Sandra Brennan, All Music Guide