Hailed as the world’s leading banjo player, Béla Fleck has reinvented the image and sound of the instrument. Over the years, his three-finger style of playing has dazzled fans of his ensembles, the New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. He’s also known for his experiments with jazz, rock and classical music.
His latest experiment, a genre-breaking collaboration with tabla master Zakir Hussain, bassist Edgar Meyer and bamboo flutist Rakesh Chaurasia, brings him to Orchestra Hall for an SCP Special Concert on Oct. 6. Along with their best-known works, Fleck will perform tracks from his Latin Grammy-winning album “The Enchantment.”
In a recent interview with the Forward, Fleck explained how a popular TV sitcom originally led him to the banjo. “I heard the banjo on television, when I was about 5 or 6, on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ ” he said, referring to the hit ’60s series about an Ozark family that uproots itself to California after discovering “black gold” under their mountain shack. “That Earl Scruggs, three-finger picking, that whole style of bluegrass, had nothing to do with me culturally. But the sound of that banjo just grabbed my ear. I felt intoxicated. I never told anyone I loved the banjo. I played a little guitar, as most kids did back then.”
A few years later, a gift from his grandfather finally persuaded him to pick up the instrument. “My grandfather got me this banjo that he found at a garage sale,” Fleck said. “He loved a deal. He didn’t know how I felt about the instrument. He might not even have planned to give it to me. I have a vague recollection that he was going to give it to my older brother, who wasn’t interested and wasn’t around that weekend.”
From that point on, Fleck was hooked. “When I played guitar, I would never practice very hard, but when I got the banjo I was stoked,” he said. “I studied with three great teachers: Erik Darling, who replaced Pete Seeger in the Weavers, Marc Horowitz, who was an ace banjo player, and Tony Trischka, one of the banjo gods. He became my hero and I became his protégé. By the time I graduated from high school, I was playing at a professional level.”