Sword and Stone, Words and Tones
Music comes naturally to Victor Wooten.
Although the world-renowned bassist has brought home five Grammy awards, on top of myriad accolades, recognitions, “best bassist” lists and more, Wooten’s approach to music remains humble – and organic.
Wooten, best known for his work with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and his groundbreaking solo efforts, will perform Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Legends on the campus of Appalachian State University.
As Wooten approaches music with an open mind, he encourages listeners and show-goers to do the same. To him, it’s only natural, but that’s something of an understatement – Wooten is a naturalist, both literally and figuratively.
“There’s a huge connection between nature and everything,” Wooten said. “One of the easiest ways to look at it is we’re trying to be natural at whatever it is we do … As a musician, I want to be natural. When someone’s good at doing that, we call them just that – a naturalist.
“When you think about what the word, ‘natural,’ means, it means to be like nature. The dictionary says, ‘ having the characteristics of nature,’ but the word … in music also means without sharps and flats. It relates totally.
“But a lot of musicians take an unnatural approach in their approach to become natural. We’re told to lock ourselves in a room and practice. If you think about music as a language … try to think about learning English by yourself in a room. You realize it wouldn’t work too well. It’s an unnatural approach. The most natural approach in whatever you’re doing is to follow the rules of nature.”
Wooten also applies this approach toward writing. Rather than write regularly, he records his ideas whenever they occur. And if a family member is on hand to refine them, it’s all the better.
Wooten’s brothers are all musicians, including Roy “Future Man” Wooten of the Flecktones, while his wife and kids also make album appearances.
“I have four brothers, four kids, my wife sings, and a bunch of my relatives sing, so I always utilize them – especially if they’re nearby,” Wooten said. “Ever since my daughter had a heartbeat, she’s been on my records. I’m just an opportunist. If you play an instrument and show up at my house or studio when I’m recording, you’ll probably end up on my record. That’s how a lot of people get on there.”
For instance, his 2008 album, “Palmystery,” not only features musical luminaries Keb’ Mo’, Mike Stern, Richard Bona, Karl Denson and J.D. Blair, but also a roster of family members, including his brothers, mother, aunts, uncles and children.
With two new albums – “Sword and Stone” and “Words and Tones” – slated for Sept. 25 release, listeners will find he’s taken a similar, yet different, approach.
“Sword and Stone” is an entirely instrumental album, while “Words and Tones” takes those tracks and reworks them with lyrics and vocals – delivered by Wooten’s friends and family.
Each album, he said, represents a different side of him as an artist.
“Starting with the titles, I think people are starting to understand the wordplay,” he said. “With ‘Sword and Stone’ … when you take the ‘S’ off the beginning of each word and put it at the end, you get ‘Words and Tones.’”
The concept came from his brother, Regi, who Wooten said is fond of wordplay, examining words and finding different meanings within.
“My brothers, Regi and Roy, have been doing this for years, but when I started doing it on my own, it was a very eye-opening thing,” Wooten said. “… And I started playing around with it and wrote some lyrics based around it. That’s where the song, ‘Sword and Stone,’ came from – just having fun.”
But more than just the titles, he said, is the concept of taking two records and producing two versions of the same material.
“A lot of times … an artist may do a song with lyrics, and then, a year or so later, a jazz musician or someone like that may come back and do an instrumental version of that song,” he said. “Well, I just decided to do that with myself. So, you’ll get to hear two different sides of these songs, which essentially are two different sides of me.”
“Words and Tones” features Wooten supporting vocalists, most of them female, including Saundra Williams (from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), Divinity Roxx (who performs with Beyoncé), New York vocalist Claudette Sierra and Krystal Peterson (the newest member of the Wooten band).
“… People will be able to hear that side of me more on ‘Words and Tones’ and how I approach supporting a vocalist,” he said.
As for “Sword and Stone,” multi-instrumentalist Wooten naturally takes an instrumental approach, where bass, saxophone and flute take the lead, prompting a different approach to the songs found on “Words and Tones.”
For Wooten, a different approach comes naturally, and it’s a quality made all the more evident in his live performances. “I want to make sure you see and hear things you’ve never seen before,” Wooten said.
For his Sept. 26 show, the fourth stop in his new tour, Wooten guarantees new tracks, sprinkled with some classics and covers. “We like to spice it up,” he said.
All the ingredients are already there. The Victor Wooten Band is comprised of multi-instrumentalists, including Krystal Peterson on vocals, keyboards and drums, J.D. Blair on vocals and drums, Derico Watson on vocals and drums, Anthony Wellington on bass, keyboards and vocals, Steve Bailey on bass, keyboards, trombone and vocals, Dave Welsch on bass, trumpet, keyboards and vocals and Wooten, himself, on electric, tenor and upright basses, cello, guitar and vocals.
“This is going to be a lot of fun,” he said, “where everybody is switching instruments, even mid-song, putting down a bass, picking up a horn or cello or guitar. But as much as possible, I want people to come with an open mind, willing to have a good time.”
Victor Wooten performs Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Legends, with area jazz rockers Bafoodus opening. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for general admission, $10 in advance for students and $12 for students and guests at the door. To purchase tickets, visit http://legends.appstate.edu. Legends has a BYOB policy with a six-pack limit.