Victor Wooten: The 'Palmystery' of Deft Fingers

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Victor Wooten plays solo for NPR:

Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten released his new album, Palmystery, simultaneously with his new novel, The Music Lesson, about a young musician and his relationship with a seemingly mystical instructor. Steven Parke hide caption

itoggle caption Steven Parke

There was a time when jazz was thought to be the devil's music. Today, another jazz virtuoso is using the music to explore spirituality and devotion to God.

Victor Wooten is best known for his work in the bluegrass-jazz fusion band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. But for many, Wooten himself is considered the modern messiah of the electric bass guitar.

His latest solo album, Palmystery, inquires into spirituality and mysticism on tracks such as "I Saw God." Wooten tried to describe what the title of the CD meant, without giving too much away.

"It's a question that I don't always like to answer, because then the mystery's over," he says. "But I like to also say that life is a mystery, and life is also in the palm of your hand. So that kind of gives a little insight into the title. But I will say that the title is broader than that, and is open to your own interpretation."

Wooten brought in his bass for a performance and conversation with Andrea Seabrook. He spoke about and demonstrated his prodigious technique, which he says comes in part from his musically talented family.

"I'm the youngest of five brothers — all my brothers play," says Wooten. "And in learning from them, I was just always inspired. I think like any kid with their older brother or something — you want to be like them. So a lot of the techniques come from being a little kid trying to imitate my brothers."

On Palmystery, Wooten gets to flex his compositional chops, too, mixing gospel and R&B elements into his music. Though he became known for his soloing with Bela Fleck, he says that he most enjoys coming up with grooves for his songs.

"My favorite thing to do is just play, I guess, what you might call 'normal' bass lines," Wooten says. "Because bass by its nature is a supportive instrument; our goal is to lay down a bass line, you might say, that other people can stand upon and groove on."

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