Victor Wooten watched Nashville grow. In 1988, the five-time Grammy Award-winning bassist moved to Music City, where he spent time in the buzz and bustle near the center of the ever-expanding Southern hub. Eventually, he relocated to a place just outside of town. He now enjoys being at a bit of a remove, where he can contemplate the sprawl and focus on his impressive career. Beyond playing some of the most well-acclaimed bass on the planet for various groups including Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, he's a student of nature and an instructor at his own nonprofit nature camp.
"In the early ’90s, I took an outdoors class from a man named Tom Brown Jr. who was teaching a lot of skills that our ancestors had to know to survive," Wooten explains. "I fell in love with what he was doing, and I thought, this is what we need to know. They should be teaching this stuff in school. So I decided to learn it and teach it myself. I realized its relationship to music. Nature and music are really the same thing. I started using a lot of the exercises I learned to help make me a better musician. I discovered that it worked, and so I started sharing that with people."
And share Wooten does. He regularly spends time at Victor Wooten's Center for Music and Nature in the small community of Only, Tennessee, where he imparts his knowledge to students every year from March to October. His 150-acre camp along a river southwest of Nashville combines nature and music, using the techniques Wooten learned from Brown. Some of Wooten's favorite exercises involve wearing a blindfold and relying on just his ears.
"The best musicians in the world are blind," says Wooten, who spent his younger years in California and Virginia. "Listening is a key part of making good music. So using a blindfold helps to heighten our other senses and plugs us into our natural abilities. Whatever we do, we want to do it naturally, whether it's music or interviewing or whatever. We want to flow without having to always concentrate on it. The word "natural" means to be like nature. A bird doesn't have to go to a conservatory to learn how to sing. They just do it. Humans have natural gifts, also, but sometimes we don't always tap into them. By cultivating our instincts out in nature's classroom, we can help develop these skills. If you look up the word "natural" in the dictionary, it will say that it means to 'be like nature.' It also says that the word means 'without sharps and without flats.' So even the dictionary makes the connection, but a lot of us humans don't. So I try to remind people and rekindle that connection that we had generations ago."
As part of his latest musical endeavor, Wooten brings his love for music and the natural world to the historic Stanley Hotel in a trio comprising himself; drummer Dennis Chambers, who has played with Bootsy Collins and Santana; and veteran saxophonist Bob Franceschini, who has backed Paul Simon. Their album, produced by Wooten, also includes singer Varijashree Venugopal and comedian/voicestrumentalist Michael Winslow. The group is touring in support of its recent release, TRYPNOTYX, which was dropped this past September and is Wooten's tenth solo album and his first release in five years.
"It's a bit of a change for me on this record," Wooten says. "Normally my solo records feature a lot of different players, but this release is just the three of us all the way through. There are a few special guests on the record. I met Varijashree, who is from India, on Facebook, and I invited her to contribute to the record. And Michael Winslow is the guy who does all the different noises in the movie Police Academy. They aren't really singing lyrics so much on the record as doing parts that use their voices in different ways. I'm very proud of it, and we've been having a great time touring it. We created the recording in a way that we can reproduce it live. I'm getting different electronic effects out of my bass. Bob is doing the same thing with his saxophone, to where he can play bass lines and he can also play chords. It's pretty neat. We're bringing a really wide variety of sounds."
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