Bring on the bass

ERIC ANDERSEN

Sept. 11 marked legendary bassist Victor Wooten’s 45th birthday. After asking him what his advice was after decades of playing bass, he paused and simply said, “Make it groove.”

“Nowadays, the young bass players are focusing on fancy techniques,” he said. “Which are good to have — it’s always fun to have fancy techniques, you know, playing fast and learning a lot of theory. But I do hear a lot of young players forgetting that at first we need to groove.”

Since breaking onto the scene in the late-80s with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, a multi-Grammy winning jazz-fusion group, Wooten has been treated as a funkadelic prophet among bass enthusiasts everywhere. With his latest solo release, Palmystery, the bassist said his goal was to go back to an original jazz sound.

Wooten will bring his expertise to the Picador, 330 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m. today. Support comes from Family Groove Company, and admission is $21. He will perform in a two-man show with drummer JD Blair, who has performed with him several times in the past.

“We’re playing songs from all the records — songs that you think you would need a huge band to play, we’re playing them,” Wooten said. “My first solo record [A Show of Hands] had no other instruments. So when I first toured, I toured with only a drummer. This is going to be different for a lot of people, especially people who never saw us back in the mid-90s. It’s definitely going to blow them away.”

Onstage, he often plays a custom Fedora bass, which incorporates the yin-yang symbol in its design. He plays music ranging from melodic smooth jazz to more electrifying dance grooves and often incorporates the slap-bass technique to add intensity and energy.

The concept of finding the natural essence of music intrigues Wooten. In the ’90s, he took classes on wilderness survival from Tom Brown Jr., which motivated him to open his own music nature camp.

“When I was taking that class, I realized, he calls it nature and tracking and awareness, but man, this is music to me,” Wooten said. “So I took a lot of his exercises that I learned, and turned them into musical lessons, and started sharing them with just a few select friends. Then I went, ‘Man, I wonder if more people could learn from this message.’ ”

He gives bass lessons at the camp, which he holds numerous times a year at the newly renovated Wooten Woods Retreat. The camp brings in various nature experts to aid him.

In addition to teaching and playing music, he recently released a novel, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. The book tells the story of a struggling young musician who meets a mystical teacher. The musician is led on a spiritual journey to find his inner sound.

“People were asking for an instructional book, and that was the book I didn’t want to write,” Wooten said. “A lot of the times, when you write an instruction type of thing, it becomes a manual, and some people take it too literally — like, ‘This is Victor’s message, you have to do it this way.’ So one day, it dawned on me to just write it as a fictional story and then people would read it lighter, not so much as verbatim truth.”

The bassist’s music has inspired numerous musicians, including the members of local band the Uniphonics.

“[Wooten] is probably the most innovative bass player to come out in a while,” Uniphonics drummer Forrest Heusinkveld said. “Whenever he comes to town, he brings some of the best players in the world who can play any style, from Jimi Hendrix-sounding stuff to jazz and hip-hop.”

Wooten guarantees that anyone going to the concert will have a memorable experience.

“I think people are going to be moved emotionally,” he said. “Their ears are going to hear great sounds, and they’re going to see some amazing things. That’s what I always say about my shows. You’re going to see some musicianship that you’ve never seen before.”

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