The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Bela Fleck & first Class Shiraz

I’ll be taking about ten days off from the blog as I travel to Europe on business. So tonight I thought I’d take a break from the guitar and introduce you to, in my opinion, the greatest banjo player in the world—none other than Béla Fleck. He reinvented the sound and image of the banjo through his interpretations of bluegrass, classical, jazz, and even funk.

Born and raised in New York City, Béla began his musical career playing the guitar. But listening to the sounds of Flatt & Scruggs on the 1960s show, the Beverly Hillbillies, drew him to the banjo and he never looked back. In September of 1973, he entered New York’s High School of Music and Art as a French horn player, but he was soon relegated to the chorus, due to, if you can believe it, his lack of musical aptitude. Since they didn’t offer banjo, he took private lessons from Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz, and Tony Trischka. Béla joined his first band, "Wicker's Creek" during this period. Living in NYC, Béla was exposed to a wide variety of musical experiences.. One of the most impressive was a concert by "Return to Forever" featuring Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. As a result of hearing their music, he began experimenting with bebop and jazz.

Several months after high school, Béla moved to Boston to play with Jack Tottle's Tasty Licks. While in Boston, Béla continued his jazz explorations, made two albums with Tasty Licks, and at 19 years old made his first solo banjo album Crossing the Tracks, on Rounder Records. This is where he first played with future musical partners Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas.

In 1981, Béla joined the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, led by Sam Bush on mandolin, fiddle and vocals. The group took bluegrass music to new limits, and through the course of five albums, charted new territory with their blend of bluegrass, rock and country music. During the 9 years Béla spent with NGR, he continued to record a series of solo albums for Rounder, including the ground breaking 1988 album "Drive". He also collaborated with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor in an acoustic super group called Strength in Numbers. In 1989, he formed the genre-busting group, the Flecktones, the members of which were and are superstars on their respective instruments. The Flecktones went on tour with Dave Matthews Band in 1996 and 1997, and Fleck is featured on several tracks on DMB's 1998 album "Before these Crowded Streets."

Already a powerfully creative force in bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and world beat, Béla made a classical connection with "Perpetual Motion", his critically acclaimed 2001 Sony Classical recording that went on to win a pair of Grammys, including Best Classical Crossover Album in the 44th annual Grammy Awards.

If you ever have a chance to see the Flecktones in concert, DO NOT MISS THEM! They are spectacular. Enjoy!

Big Country:

Scratch & Sniff:  (Check out theJazz bassoon)

Breakfdast Feud:

Celtic Medley:

The Sinister Minister Part 1:



B song:

The Flecktones unplugged:



Lochs of Dread:

With a classy musician like Fleck, I think I’ll pair him with R Wine’s 2007 First Class Shiraz. The nose boasts aromas of vanilla, black licorice, black raspberry, and cassis. This wine is best tasted after letting it breathe for an hour or two. After 2 hours, the wine becomes silky smooth, gliding across the palate to a beautiful finish. It shows rich flavors of creamy cassis, black licorice, blackberry, and vanilla that meld together into a beautiful, fully structured wine. Very nice and the perfect accompaniment to the music of Béla Fleck. Enjoy!


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