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Five-time Grammy-winning bass player, producer, composer, author, and educator Victor Wooten will release Trypnotyx, his first album in five years. In support of the album, he will hit the road this fall and winter with the Victor Wooten Trio, featuring legendary drummer Dennis Chambers and renowned saxophonist Bob Franceschini.
“I like to talk and I like to play,” said Wooten, as he began his commencement address to the Class of 2016 at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School. This was his way of explaining why he wasn’t going to recite the speech he had written out for the occasion. Instead, for twenty-four minutes he shared his thoughts with them about life, about success and challenge and meaning, all while accompanying his words on the bass guitar strapped across his shoulder.
He played and spoke freely, gently, and eloquently. He took his audience back to a bit of wisdom he and his brothers had received from their mother, back when they were just beginning to demonstrate the phenomenal talent that would culminate years later in worldwide recognition as the Wooten Brothers. “What does the world need with just another good musician? We have plenty. What the world needs is good people.” As he improvised a four-string soundtrack to frame and channel his ideas, Wooten expanded on the lessons she had imparted: “We’re already born special. . . . In the history of humankind, your fingerprint has never been here and will never be here again. . . . No one can take that away from you. Your job is to improve on that specialness and present it to the world.”
These moments, whether witnessed that night in Burlington or later on YouTube, surely changed lives. They also capture what Victor Wooten really does best. Better even than his revolutionary technique is his conceptual redefinition of the bass guitar’s role.
How can this be? What Wooten did with bass has almost no parallel in modern music. From Coleman Hawkins to and beyond John Coltrane, the great saxophonists approached their instrument more or less the same way. Same thing with Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, Ray Brown and Esperanza Spalding; styles progress, harmonic and melodic languages expand but essentially fundamental concepts remain the same.
Not so with Wooten. After him, every bassist in the world began to think differently, much as guitarists did after Hendrix. Young bassists now start from a different set of assumptions than their predecessors did a generation ago. Wooten’s blazing, percussive chops lit a fire for many of them, as did his explorations of melody, nuance, and phrasing.
But Wooten might smile when reminded of the old parable about the wind and the sun competing to see who might force someone they had focused on to remove his coat as he went walking one day. The wind whipped the poor guy mercilessly, blowing harder and harder, but he simply wrapped himself up tighter and refused to let go. Then the sun took over, bathed the man in warmth—and the jacket was off.
So, yes, these are what Victor Wooten’s forte and calling are, whether speaking in Burlington, working with kids at his Center for Music and Nature at the 147-acre Wooten Woods retreat in Tennessee, or outlining his philosophy of music in a novel, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth through Music, now a part of the curriculum at the Berklee College of Music, Stanford University, and other prestigious institutions.
One of the Top 10 Bassists of All Time
Whether it’s through his music or other life interests, Victor Wooten is constantly looking for ways to innovate and make the world a better, more interesting place.