Grammy® award-winner Victor Wooten began his journey in Hampton, VA, on September 11, 1964. Growing up in a household that both supported and participated in music, Wooten was given an education in music from a very early age. He stated that his parents frequently engaged their children in live musical events as well as provided an environment that encouraged their musical involvement. “I was born into a band. My 4 older brothers all played… I’m the youngest of 5 brothers, and when I was born, get this, they already knew they needed a bass player. So when I came along, that was already laid out for me. So that’s all I’ve ever done,” Wooten explained. He held his first musical instrument (a toy guitar) at the age of two. Even though he had no idea what a guitar was he liked the sounds it made. At the age of three he was taught how to play the bass guitar by his brother Regi and by the age of five, Wooten was playing the bass alongside his four brothers in their band, The Wooten Brothers. Inspired by R & B greats such as James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and others, the group went on to record their first album in 1985. Playing with his family and watching the industry greats served as his school of music and he soon graduated with flying colors.
As Wooten reminisced about the earlier days he explained that playing music with his brothers gave him a strong foundation in the language of music. Being able to get people to respond to him through music has impacted how he interacts with other musicians as well as his audience. I was able to see this first hand. We have all witnessed the power of the language of music in movies. For example, we all remember those few chords that haunted us in “Jaws,” or how the lovely piano melody played in “Twilight” made us feel the romance between Bella and Edward. At a recent performance, I watched the audience respond to the melodies played by Wooten’s band giving me a deeper understanding of how the language of music can move and inspire groups of people.
Learning to play music is an undertaking that requires discipline, commitment and patience. It was shocking to learn Wooten, who possesses an amazing gift for music innovation and thought-provoking compositions, did not receive formal musical training in school. Who better to ask than a musician without the formal training for advice on learning how to play music? Wooten compared traditional music instruction to that of learning a language. When you first learn a language you learn through listening and reproducing what is heard. No one criticized the first words you spoke when you were a baby or the speed in which you learned to talk. Learning how to play music should be approached the same way. The way music is taught traditionally is to first introduce the written form and then you are taught how to play it. Instead it would be helpful to think of learning how to play an instrument the same way you learned to speak, by listening to it (the success of this can be seen in learning a new song heard on the radio). “I learned to play music the way I learned to speak. It was free. You know, I wasn’t forced to do it. I wasn’t overcorrected or overtaught. So I learned it really quickly,” Wooten said. He suggested that it would be easier for starting musicians to start learning music through hearing what you want to play and emulating the sounds you hear. Wooten says that natural expression of yourself through music can serve as the best teacher.
Throughout his musical career, Wooten has experienced many successes. He is a founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, an eclectic ensemble known for performing music across many genres. He has shared the stage with numerous legendary artists including The Temptations, Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, and Stephanie Mills, along with superstars Branford Marsalis, The Dave Matthews Band, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Prince. He is now a 5-time Grammy® Award winner and has won every award that could be awarded to a bass guitarist. He has been called “one of the most fearless musicians on the planet” and “the Michael Jordan of the bass.” No wonder Rolling Stone Magazine in 2011 hailed him as “one of the Top Ten Bassists of all time.”
Wooten is also an educator and a published author. His book entitled “The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth through Music” has been used as required reading in study groups, schools, and even the world famous Berklee College of Music and Stanford. He also has established Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature, a place where musicians and vocalists can study with Wooten and enhance their musical skills and improve their personal lives. With all of these accomplishments, Wooten says that he is most proud of his family. He has passed down his love for music to his 4 children and relishes this opportunity to expose them to music as his parents did with him. Wooten said, “They are kind of learning the same way I did except all 4 of them don’t jam together as much as my brothers and I did. But my 15-year-old daughter and my 11-year-old son have a band together with another guy. They play gigs. They write their own music.” Wooten figures you see young people singing all the time. Why not kids who play music? The next generation Wootens are following right in the footsteps of the original Wooten Brothers, continuing this legacy of extraordinary musicians.