By Brent Thompson
Photos by Steve Parke
Victor Wooten is just your everyday bassist, composer, producer, educator, author and record label owner. Oh, and he’s also won five GRAMMYS and been named “One of the Top 10 Bassists of All Time” by Rolling Stone in a recording career spanning nearly 30 years. The youngest of five musician brothers, 53-year-old Victor first gained notoriety as bassist for the genre-bending ensemble Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. in 2017, Wooten released his 10th solo record, TRYPNOTYX [Vix Records], with the Victor Wooten Trio (the trio includes drummer Dennis Chambers and saxophonist Bob Franceschini). On Thursday, March 29, the Victor Wooten Trio will perform in the Alys Stephens Center’s Jemison Concert Hall. Recently, Wooten spoke with us by phone as he prepared to embark on the current leg of the TRYPNOTYX tour.
Birmingham Stages: Victor, thanks for your time. TRYPNOTYX is your first solo release in five years. How did you decide it was the right time to make this record?
Victor Wooten: Good question – the real reason is I don’t know. I put records out on my own time and when I feel the time is right. Life is complex for me with family and kids, so making records is not the most important thing. I’m also not an artist that puts them out every year like some other people do because I’m not bound by a record label that’s forcing me to put them out. I just put them out when I feel the time is right. I had no idea that it had been five years. I constantly tour so time just flies by.
Birmingham Stages: How did the album’s material take shape? Are the songs mostly newer compositions or had they been around for a while?
VW: Kind of all of the above. The song called “Liz & Opie” is an old song that I revamped and sped up and made it right for this band. The other ones are all new – it’s a collaboration; I didn’t write everything. Bob had some songs and Dennis had ideas and we were able to put all of them together to come up with new music that fits the band. I didn’t really treat it as a solo Victor Wooten record – I treated it as a band record and that helped. These two guys are two of my musical heroes.
Birmingham Stages: Do songs still evolve even after you take them into the studio for the final recording?
VW: Yes, and that’s what I want. I want the band to influence the songs so it’s rare that I finish them completely before I start bringing them in on it. With Bob being a great sax player, he’s going to write better sax parts and melodies than me. With Dennis, I don’t want to tell him what to play.
Birmingham Stages: Are you still on the faculty of The Berklee College of Music?
VW: Yes, I’m there one week every month. I teach a Monday through Friday.
Birmingham Stages: Do you enjoy the variety of working with students in addition to recording and touring?
VW: For 19 years I’ve been running music camps so I’m in touch with students all year, but the college experience on a regular basis is new to me. I never went to college, so being at a college every month is a lot of fun. Because I’m not there all month, it would take a long time for it to get old to me.
Birmingham Stages: Your book, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music [Berkley Books, 2008], was well-received both commercially and critically. In addition to songwriting, do you have any book plans in the future?
VW: I am writing as we speak. I’m literally one page away from having the sequel to The Music Lesson completed. This year is the 10-year anniversary of The Music Lesson, so I’m trying to make sure the sequel gets out this year.
Birmingham Stages: Given all of your projects and commitments, are you still involved in The Wooten Brothers project with your three brothers?
VW: [Oldest brother and guitarist] Regi still does it but he does it now at a new Jazz club called Rudy’s. We had a fifth brother who passed away a few years ago who played saxophone named Rudy and some of his friends opened up a Jazz club named after him. So Regi’s weekly Wednesday night jam is now at Rudy’s. [My involvement] depends on if I’m in town or not. It’s definitely Regi’s gig, but if I’m in town on a Wednesday I do my best to try to get by there.
The Victor Wooten Trio will perform in the Alys Stephens Center’s Jemison Concert Hall on Thursday, March 29. Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $40 (limited $10 student tickets are available) and can be purchased at www.alysstephens.org. For information on Victor Wooten’s educational camps, please visit www.vixcamps.com.