Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Victor Wooten: A Magician on 4-Strings / Q&A

By WILLIAM KENNEDY // Acclaimed Multi-genre Musician Plays Eugene on Saturday


Victor Wooten is a magician, both on-stage and off. “A lot of what I do on stage is a magic trick,” Wooten tells Oregon Music News, “But all that means is that the spectator may not know how it was done. Even on a bad night, we want the audience to witness a good show. For that to happen, we may have to trick them. There's nothing wrong with that.”

The five-time GRAMMY award-winning bass player, producer, composer, author, and educator, and founding member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, is touring in support of his newly released, widely acclaimed album, TRYPNOTYX, his 10th solo album and first in five years.

Wooten took the time to talk to Oregon Music News about his upcoming show Saturday, Jan. 13 at The Shedd Institute of the Arts in Eugene.

You're playing with a trio. I'm thinking of artistic "restrictions" in the form of 4-strings and playing in a three-piece. Do you like working within "creative" boxes like that?

I approach it like having a conversation. When speaking, the "amount" of people you're speaking with is not really the issue. It comes down to "who" you're speaking with. Music is the same. The amount of musicians who are "speaking" can determine how much or how little each person needs to speak. Playing in a trio definitely allows for more space. The mistake would be for us to a ways fill that space.Sometimes it's better to allow the music to breath. In all cases, making the best music for the situation we are in is always our goal. And like a conversation, it changes each time.

The amount of strings is not a restriction unless the musician allows it to be. Remember: musician's play music, not instruments. So, the musician should play the instrument that makes him or her the most comfortable. For me, that is a four-string bass.

Take me back to when you knew the bass was your instrument?

That happened for me at a very young age. When I was born, my older brothers had already chosen their instruments. Regi was playing guitar, Roy drums, Rudy Saxophone, and Joseph keyboards. To complete the band, they needed a bassist. That became me at birth. My earliest memories of playing with my brothers was when I was two. We were living in Hawaii at the time. By the time I was five, we had moved to Sacramento, California and started playing shows and concerts. We were the opening band for Curtis Mayfield's tour when I was six. My oldest brother, Regi (who taught Joseph and me how to play) was only fourteen. Playing bass allowed me to hang out and participate in activities with my four older brothers while having my own important role to play. Playing a different instrument was never a consideration.

You're also a magician -- compare and contrast magic tricks with what you do with your instrument?

A lot of what I do on stage is a magic trick. But all that means is that the spectator may not know how it was done. Even on a bad night, we want the audience to witness a good show. For that to happen, we may have to trick them. There's nothing wrong with that.

I use a lot of the same concepts I learned from doing magic while performing music on stage. Direction and misdirection are useful tools to draw the audience's attention to what you want them to see or hear. This technique is especially beneficial when there is a problem or malfunction on stage or when there is a particular part of the music you the audience to pay attention to. It can (and should) also be used to help direct the audience's focus to the soloist. 

Being a magician is an art form that is meant to be performed in front of people. Music is the same. Many musicians perform as if the audience is not important. We may keep our head down, not smile, or not even say thank you when the audience applauds for us. A magician, or any good performer, knows that the audience feeds off of the performer's energy. The audience will look where the performer looks. The audience follows our lead. A magician knows that one wrong move can destroy the whole effect. I take that same mentality to the stage. 

Magician/Musician. The similarities can be seen in the names.

Preview for me a little of what you'll play in Eugene?

Our show will be comprised of both new and old songs. We'll play many of the songs from our new record TRYPNOTYX, but we'll also play songs from some of my older records. Depending on the night, we may play jazz standards, Cuban or Latin music, or anything else. Guaranteed, it'll be fun, improvisational, inspirational, and high level musicianship. 


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