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Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten is a powerhouse jazz bassist out of Nashville Tennessee, who graciously discusses his music, latest recordings, new book and his philosophy and life as a musician.

JazzReview: I’ve listen to several of your music recordings and this recording is different

Victor Wooten: Yes.

JazzReview: Very spiritual, almost mysterious, although I’ve heard the diversity in your music, the funk, jazz, blues, pop, soul, world and gospel music. How did this all come about?

Victor Wooten: Well, believe it or not, a lot of this music was recorded right around 2004--about half of the album

JazzReview: Four years in the making?

Victor Wooten: Yes, and what happened was, I was recording two albums at the same time. I was recording my last album Soul Circus, and I was also recording some of the music for this album Palmystery. I didn’t know which record I was going to put out so I was just recording both at the same time. Soul Circus was like a 70s soul record, like Sly Stone, and Palmystery being more jazzy, a little more instrumental, I wasn’t sure which one I was going to put out first. It ended up being Soul Circus so I was ready to put this one out. I just mixed some of those songs I had already recorded with a few newer ones.

"I saw God" was one of the newer ones, where "The Gospel" was one of the older ones. The thing is, I like to try to be very diverse musically and I have tons of ideas, tons of ideas! So, I can’t get them out in one record. I can’t even get them out in five records.

JazzReview: That means you’ll be recording for years to come.

Victor Wooten: I hope so.

JazzReview: I know it’s been four years, but has there been anything one thing or one person that inspired you to record Palmystery?

Victor Wooten: No, not one person, but a lot of people and also the public like for a song like "I saw God," which can rub some people the wrong way. I think the general public kind of let me know they were ready to accept a song like that. My close friends, we sit around talk about all kinds of things-how in the song it uses God’s voice as a male and a female. That makes sense to me, but there are some people that will fight you to the death over that. (Laughter) But, it seems like enough people were ready to hear something like that and wouldn’t try to kill me. Like I said, the public has inspired me some also.

JazzReview: I also understand you’re doing a novel

Victor Wooten: Yes. it’s coming out the same day; it’s called "The Music Lesson."

JazzReview: That’s wonderful. during my research, I found a website where some people have read your book. I myself have begun to read it.

Victor Wooten: It comes out on April 1st.

JazzReview: I want to share some comments about your book with you: " Finally, something new!," "Thinking outside of the box," "Read a chapter and change your playing," "This little book will inspire you to grow as a musician and be a better person," and "Written by one of the most innovative musicians of our time."

What inspired you to write a book and record an album, and have them released at the same time?

Victor Wooten: Two questions there. To do the book I’ve been running my camp since the year 2000, running it at least twice a year. I’ve also been just teaching workshops and classes longer than that. So over the years, people have been asking me to put that information into a book. I knew what they wanted was an instruction book and I didn’t want to write a normal instruction book for my own reasons. It’s always taken as a definitive view of the author. In other words, people most of the time can’t discern the information from the author. A lot of times with fiction, we take fiction likely. If there’s something we agree or disagree with in fiction, it’s no big deal, it’s just more entertainment rather than the rule. But in fiction, if there’s something to learn from, than you do. It took me a long time to realize it, but finally it hit me, if I wrote the instructional book, go ahead and write it, but do it as fiction. Then people will accept it for what it is. They will still be able to learn from it if they choose, but I don’t have to defend it. In other words, if there’s something people don’t want to agree with; there’s no argument when it comes to fiction.

JazzReview: Are you very spiritual?

Victor Wooten: I would say that I am because people always tell me that I am. To me, I look at things the way they are at least to me. The real thing is I look at things deeply. In other words, if I were to ask you to describe your feelings, especially if you’re in love or angry or whatever, it would be considered spiritual. How can you really explain love? You would have a hard time finding the words. It could be considered spiritual, but that’s just the way you feel. You’re not trying to be spiritual so people tell me I’m spiritual, but I’m not trying to be. I just look at things the way I see them. And when I talk about them, it comes across as spiritual, and I don’t mind that.

JazzReview: We spoke earlier about the track "I saw God." That is a powerful track. I was intrigued with the recording for me it made me think, especially when I heard the female and male voice of God. Although sometimes you don’t want to admit it, you do hear the two voices.

Victor Wooten: What I find that is hard is that woman let it happen, women buy it. It’s not to put women down...I’m not saying that. I’ve talked to some women who will fight hard to stick by that thing that no God is a male.

JazzReview: It has to be a male voice.

Victor Wooten: My thought is just to challenge people to question because in my humble opinion one of the things that needs to be changed the most in our culture is religion. Everything else changes; the way we travel, the TV shows, the schools, everything changes with the times. Life is about change. You don’t have life if there’s no change. But, we fight hard to keep our religion the same and if we look at life, we can prove it doesn’t work.

A lot of people will say well no, we need to get more religion and then it will work. But that’s not the truth! You can look at every sector of the church and you’ll find problems in it. When we get to the place where we have high level priest involved with children, there’s an issue there.

So that was one of the things I wanted to do, not tell people what to think, but cause people to think and question there own thing. Hopefully, with the song, I was able put that message into an enjoyable vehicle that will allow people to say okay, wow! God’s voice does sound nice as a female. Maybe it will make them think about it, not have to change, but think about it. That’s all I was looking for with that song.

JazzReview: The track "Gospel," was a combination of generations of your family recording this track. Was this planned?

Victor Wooten: The plan made itself evident; the plan came to me I wanted a song to capture that old feel when my brother Joseph and I were writing that song.

We called my mom and asked her to sing this old spiritual that we had heard her sing. She started singing and I said, "This is too good," so I got a recorder and recorded her singing over the telephone. That recording over the telephone is what is on the record. After she sang it, I could just hear the old primitive Baptist with my aunts and uncles. I then asked them to sing and I went to North Carolina. It is a real old, almost lost art form of singing, but the most interesting thing about that part of the song is what I bring up to musicians is my aunts and uncles. I had to explain to them my use of the song before they would allow me to use it. It’s not money driven, they weren’t asking for money. They didn’t even write the song, but they knew how sacred the song was and they wanted to make sure it maintained that.

That to me was really interesting because I don’t know any musicians that look at music that way. If someone wanted me to use their song, it would be based on money. This was not based on money at all, and I just thought that was neat and makes me look at my own music, and how do I view my own music that I created that way.

That was a lesson in itself. That song had a purpose and they didn’t want to abuse the meaning of the song or what it was about. The song has realness to it; it’s not just a bunch of notes, it’s much more than that. They wanted to make sure it was maintained and not abused.

After that, I went to DC where a lot of my younger relatives lived, cousins and aunts, to add to the old spiritual, and the younger ones to add to the other part of the song-- the more up beat section of the song. It was really nice and it turned into more than I had originally expected. It turned into a family song that everyone was proud of and happy with. Some of relatives have since passed on. It’s nice having their voice recorded.

JazzReview: I listened to your opener "Two- Timers" which was bouncy with a bang, and the ending song "US 2" gave you a peaceful state of mind. Was that done intentionally?

Victor Wooten: Yes, that was definitely, intentionally done. I like to leave people in a place (and I’ve done it on previous records also) where I leave you with a song where you have to stop and listen. It quiets you down. It’s like taking a walk on a nice nature trail through the woods. That quiets you down automatically. I wanted a song like that.

JazzReview: What would you say is next in turns of your solo career?

Victor Wooten: For my career, I still have a lot of ideas that I have to get out, in a lot of different styles of music. I don’t know if it will be the next record, but I want to do an acoustic record where I play mostly acoustic bass and cello.

I played cello from 6th grade through high school and the upright bass also, and recorded on maybe two tunes on a record, but I want to do a whole record that way. That’s going to be one of the records. I don’t know when.

JazzReview: You have enough music to last us for a long time.

Victor Wooten: Absolutely.

JazzReview: Will your next recording be as radically different from Palmystery?

Victor Wooten: I hope so. Yes, that would be the plan because so far, each one of my recordings I’ve done differently.

My first record was strictly solo based, no other instrument--just me sitting down with my bass, one track. Each record I’ve tried do, [I would] make different if I could.

JazzReview: And it has been.

Victor Wooten: That’s what people have said, especially with this record. That’s one of the comments I’ve been hearing. This record is allowing people to see that everyone of the records is different, and I like that!

JazzReview: Victor Wooten’s bass nature camps...tell us, what is the camp about?

Victor Wooten: Sure. It’s a way of using nature as a classroom to learn about music, rather than a four-wall room. Basically, it can be explain this way: Whatever it is you do in life, whether you’re a writer, a musician--whether you’re walking, talking, it doesn’t matter--you want to do these things naturally. You want to be natural at it. In other words, if you’re writing my words, you don’t want to have to focus on your words and concentrate real hard. You couldn’t naturally focus too hard on your words and still hear what I’m saying at the same time. You have to be listening and the writing has to happen on its own. You want to be natural at it.

If I’m playing basket ball like Michael Jordan, he doesn’t want to focus and concentrate all the time. You just want to be natural. So whatever it is you’re doing, driving or whatever, we’re trying to be natural. The dictionary will tell you that the word "natural" is a derivative of the word nature. It means to be like nature; having the characteristics of nature. So what that means in our quest to be natural, we’re trying to be like nature.

In music, we teach each other that to be a good musician you have to spend hours in the wood shed. That means practicing by yourself, and I challenge that thought. We say music is a language., I haven’t heard any musician say that music is not a language. What language would you get good at in a room by yourself?

JazzReview: That is heavy.

Victor Wooten: If you want to be natural like nature, it’s not going to happen by yourself. You have to get out in the world. So basically, we are learning to follow nature’s example. I’m not so much telling them all of this, I’m just using it and allowing it to happen. They see it on their own terms. No one has to tell nature what to do the grass is going to grow, or not. The tree comes up and dies at the end of the year and comes back the next. That’s the process that we at our best follow in life so I’m using that as the classroom. A robin learns to sing its song not through music school, nor through a wood shed. How does a squirrel know to store nuts in the winter? It’s natural. We have that ability, but we lose it through different processes. I want to bring some of that back.

JazzReview: Excellent! Any final thoughts?

Victor Wooten: Well, I would like to let people know that they can out find more about me through my website: www.victorwooten.com or www. myspace.com/victorwooten. There’s another interesting website that I have going with another bass player named Steve Bailey. It is www.thebassvault.com and it’s the most innovative and extensive musical website in existence. Sometimes when I’m on tour, I broadcast my show so members of the bass vault can sign in and watch the show from wherever they are around the world.

JazzReview: That’s great!

Victor Wooten: There are all sorts of lessons and things. Members that sign up to the site for a year have access to our sound checks so they can come to the shows early and hang out. There is all kinds of fun stuff. It’s a fun site.

JazzReview: Every once in a while something truly wonderful happens. That something is Victor Wooten’s "Palmystery."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Victor Wooten
  • Interview Date: 4/1/2008
  • Subtitle: The Palmystery
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