Internationally renowned banjo musician Béla Fleck took some time to answer a few questions for District before his show on March 29.
District: Hi, Béla! Thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions for SCAD District. What is it about Savannah that brings you back to our music festival each year?
Béla: It’s a great festival, with the kind of diversity and high quality that I am glad to be associated with. These don’t happen everywhere—you have a very special one here!
District: Many would consider you the greatest banjo player of all time. What in your life brought you to decide to pursue that instrument?
Béla: It was just chance and I guess a calling. When I heard the banjo it struck a chord in me—cheesy as that sounds. Eventually my grandfather put one in my hands when I was 15 and obsessive compulsion did the rest!
District: Who are some musicians that inspired you early in life to pursue music?
Béla: Earl Scruggs, the Beatles, Charlie Parker and Chick Corea, Tony Trischka.
District: When did you realize you would focus your career on music?
Béla: It was never a conscious decision. One day I woke and realized I was in it.
District: Who are some new or up-and-coming musicians that you’ve been listening to lately?
Béla: Chris Thile is a good one. Abigail Washburn is awesome. She is my wife too, full disclosure!
District: If someone were to look through your music collection, what would they be most surprised to find?
Béla: Barbara Streisand. She is a secret favorite.
District: Is it true that this is your fourth year performing with the Marcus Roberts Trio at the Savannah Music Festival? If you had the chance to collaborate with any other Savannah Music Festival artist this year, who would you pick?
Béla: This is my first time ever doing a performance with Marcus. We met here several years ago and jammed on a couple of tunes at a late night jam session. Ever since, I have hoped we’d find a place to get together. Roy Gibson gave us the opportunity and I thank him.
District: What other hobbies keep you busy, other than music?
Béla: I spend a lot of time these days trying to be healthy—moving around, jogging, a little yoga. I need that because the road life is not conducive to good health! I am usually working on the next musical project while I am doing the one I am doing.
District: You’ve already accomplished so much in the music industry. Is there anything you haven’t done yet that are future goals in your career?
Béla: High on the list was the chance to create a banjo concerto, which I have been fortunate enough to have been commissioned to do. I am nearly done with it, and it’s a very different challenge. There are lots of exciting things left to try.
District: Final and random question: What are you reading right now?
Béla: Neal Stephenson, “Anathem” [He’s] an amazing author.
Béla Fleck performances four times at the 2011 Savannah Music Festival:
Sound Dialogue: Joe Craven and Béla Fleck
Kennedy Pharmacy: March 29 at 2 p.m. Free.
Béla Fleck with the Marcus Roberts Trio (Premiere)
Charles H. Morris Center: March 29 at 6 p.m. $40.
Béla Fleck with the Marcus Roberts Trio
Charles H. Morris Center: March 29 at 8:30 p.m. $40.
Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer
Lucas Theatre for the Arts: March 30 at 8 p.m. $20, $30, $40, $50, $65.