Interview with Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten is one of the most awesome electric bass players of his generation. Raised on Funk, Jazz and R&B he has created a style of playing that is completely his own for a new generation of music lovers. “Bass Tribute” from the “Soul Circus” 2005 CD is an example of just how special his talent is to fans of traditional Black radio. In addition to having the ability to play just like so many masters of the instrument, he also plays his instrument in a revolutionary way with incredible speed. As an artist he is creating a library of work that is making people take another look and listen to the bass. Many of his compositions are filled with fast paced play and complex ideas. Victor’s technique is unsurpassed and visually his performance is an experience for your eyes, to catch up to your ears. On March 20th Victor and drummer JD Blair will perform, “Two Minds, One Groove Tour”, at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta’s Little Five Points. “Palmystery” released in April of ’08 is Victor’s latest studio offering. It features Mike Stern, Richard Bona, Keb’ Mo and many others.

I was able to speak to Victor Wooten about the Two Minds, One Groove Tour (the current tour), Palmystery (the current cd), SMV Tour (the tour with Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller), The Music Lesson (the literary novel), Wooten Woods (the retreat/camp) and his music.

AJI: What can fans expect to see at your upcoming show at the Variety Playhouse on March 20th?

VW: When I released my first solo CD in ’96, (Show of Hands) it was a solo bass recording and I toured with just a drummer, J D Blair. It took a while for people to realize that this is a legitimate thing. We began to get gigs and opened for different people and it really took off. I haven’t done this in years so this will be different from my latest project “Palmystery.” We’ll be going back to earlier songs from older CD’s. We’re going to remind people what the bass and drums can do.

AJI: On your site the tour is called “Two Minds, One Groove” which sounds pretty funky to me?

VWThis is going to be very groovy and we’re going to have the audience up dancing. It will be very exciting and it’s just going to be the two of us. We have our funky version of jazz or jazzy version of funk, we’re still trying to figure it out? But it will be funky because that’s the main thing I do when we get together.

AJI: Your talent and creativity is compared to electric bass masters like Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller. Where does that type of inspiration come from?

VW: That’s one of the things that I talk about in my workshops at Wooten Woods and in my book, “The Music Lesson.” The main thing is my approach to music and how I learned it. As a child I learned music at the same time I was learning the English language and much in the same way. In a sense it’s not through inspiration, no one told you to be like yourself, to sound like you but you just do. I just play like me. At an early age I was the bass player for my brothers’ band and they threw me into the fire. I had to uphold a pretty important role as the bassist and at the same time it was a way for me to participate with my big brothers who I looked up to.

AJI: You are the youngest of five boys, who are probably all musical geniuses.

VW: Yes, I’m the youngest. When I was five we were out there doing it and there was no time for any, “I’m too little.” Everyone has a different perspective and way of looking at life. We thank our parents for that and exposing us to different ideas and not forcing us down one road. All of my brothers are what I call alternate thinkers.

AJI: I saw your Soul Circus tour when you played the Variety Playhouse and your brother Rudy did something that I had never seen before but had known from Roland Kirk, he played two saxophones at the same time.

VW: It’s interesting, Rudy plays an alto sax and a C melody horn. A lot of people forget that these horns exist. Because the alto plays in A and the C melody plays in C he can get these funky minor chords and he plays some funky stuff. We grew up with Rudy as our horn section. We would play Tower of Power and stuff like that and Rudy would play two of the notes and my brother Joseph would play the third note on the organ. We had a horn section.

AJI: Stanley and Marcus, two of your bass idols, what was it like for you working with them with the SMV project and tour?

VW: We’re actually planning another tour this summer so we’re still working. It was a dream come true to be in the studio with those two guys. I can remember the first time I met Stanley I was nine years old and the great thing is every time I’m around him I become that same nine year old kid again. I can recall the first days in the studio I was taking pictures of all three of our basses together and our names above the channels on the sound board. It was a real dream come true working with my heroes.

AJI: Like many great artists you give your time to support young aspiring musicians and artists to grow and improve their skills. Tell me about your bass camp at Wooten Woods Retreat.

VW: Wooten Woods is the most exciting thing that I have going on right now. My wife and I purchased 150 acres of land but the students have been showing up to build it physically. I have to thank all of our past campers and some special friends who have really stepped it up to make this place happen. We have “building weekends” where last April we put up a two story building and a 1000 foot dome structure as well as lots of other things we did over the weekend. Our last building weekend takes place April 3rd thru the 5th and will be our last one before we actually have our first camp on location. Sunday, April 5th, marks the opening to the public and people can come see the grounds. J.D. and I will perform the last show of the tour there.

AJI: Last April when you released your CD “Palmystery” you also released your first literary book, “The Music Lesson”, did the CD inspire the book or did the book inspire the CD?

VW: They both kind of influenced each other. There’s one song on “Palmystery” called “The Lesson” and that song is actually written in the book. At the beginning of each chapter is a hand written measure of music, one measure. So once you read the whole book you get all of the measures and can put them together and that is the song on the CD. A lot of the elements that we talk about in the book can be heard on the CD, that’s one of the ways that they come together.

AJI: Do you think Palmystery is your best work as a solo artist so far in your career?

VW: No I don’t. I feel that the two things that do get better are the writing and the production. I learn how to make my CD’s sound better sonically. I recently went back and listened to all of my early CD’s and thought, “Man, this is great stuff!” There were some really good, fun ideas with great players on them. One song featured bagpipes from Ireland. Another had lyrics that really say something like the song “Think About That” (from the “Yin Yang” CD ‘99) which contains words of wisdom.

One thing I like about my CD’s are that each one is different from the last. Palmystery is totally different, more jazz and instrumental. It’s hard to say it’s better. Like my kids, I have four but the youngest is not better than the oldest, they’re just different. Plus the youngest has the opportunity of learning from the older ones. I had the opportunity of learning from my past records and in some ways it may be better but in others it may not?

AJI: On your song “Left, Right and Center” you feature Mike Stern on guitar and three incredible drummers. How did you record three drummers?

VW: JD Blair was the first drummer I recorded my bass parts. I didn’t have Mike Stern or Neil Evans on it yet, just a bunch of layered bass tracks imitating the guitar. I’ll use a drum machine and make a sort of drum loop with percussions but not a whole part. I knew where I wanted them to play. Dennis Chambers showed up and I gave him the option of hearing what JD played and he said, “I don’t want to hear it, I just want to play.” So Dennis played blind. Will Kennedy had the same option and said, “I want to hear those two guys so I know how I should play.”

AJI: Track three is a thoughtful song called “I saw God” that makes me think for a couple reasons. You feature the great Cameroon bassist Richard Bona on vocals only?

VW: Yes, he just sings and plays some percussion. As incredible of a bassist as he is, his singing blows me away even more. It’s so unique and beautiful. I asked him to sing and gave him an idea of what I was looking for. I played the lyrics on the bass because I couldn’t sing it. I sent the track to him and I guess he recorded it in his home studio and when he sent it back he had just layered his voice. He added extra vocal parts and all of this African percussion. He really hooked it.

AJI: I learned of Richard Bona on Mike Stern’s 2001 CD “Voices” and discovered Mike Stern on a live bootleg of Jaco Pastorius who you are always compared with. Mike Stern always plays with great bassists. Is this your first time working with Mike Stern?

VW: I got the opportunity to tour with Mike playing in his quartet. I learned a lot on and off the stage. Like Stanley and Marcus, he’s one of those guys who I’ve been listening to forever. He plays a lot of guitar but it’s not over your head. It’s not so out that you can’t feel it.

AJI: Your song, “The Gospel” has a very spiritual feeling that is distinct. Was that what church was like for you and your family?

VW: That’s the North Carolina, Southern Baptist churches my parents belonged to. No instruments allowed in the church. It’s an old style of singing that’s, unfortunately, dying out. I wanted to capture it. They do a thing where the lead vocalist, who is called the “worder” will sing the lyrics first. Then the choir sings the whole verse back very slowly and drawn out using the exact same lyrics. Then the “worder” sings the next line. So that’s what’s going on. This is an old soulful, bluesy style of singing.

This was the thing. I had to get my mother with her sisters’ and brothers’ approval to do the song. It was almost as if I had to pass a test. I had to go through a ritual rite of passage. They didn’t write that song. They don’t own it. They make no royalties. They we’re protecting the song for the song’s sake. That made me realize that I don’t even look at my own music that way. I had to take a step back to realize this is what music is really about. They wanted to make sure that the music was going to be held in the standard that it is. So they let me record it and I have been changed since then.

AJI: You are able to incorporate so many great ideas into your music and make it work.

VW: You are able to incorporate so many great ideas into your music and make it work.

Victor Wooten was interviewed by Phil Roberts for AtlantaJazz.Info


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