Video: Victor Wooten on Learning to Tap and Interpreting The Beatles

If you were asked to list ten of the best bassists of all time, Victor Wooten is probably one of the first to come to mind. Known not only for his collaboration work (including his longstanding position as bass player for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones) but also for his solo projects (starting with A Show of Hands in 1996), Wooten consistently demonstrates how bass guitar doesn't always have to settle for a supporting role—it can be the star of the show.

We had a chance to catch up with Wooten before a recent soundcheck, and the first question we asked was about who first inspired him to pick up the bass guitar. As is the case for many, he answered with the legendary Jaco Pastorius.

But Wooten didn't settle for simply observing from a distance. If he heard something he liked, he was going to learn it right away. "That's what I call 'concentrated learning.' I was just in it until I got it," he said.

We also wanted to ask Wooten about how he approached arranging The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" for bass. His goal first and foremost when covering any tune? Honor the song.

"It's still about that song and that composer more than it is about me," he told us. "Even if I played or sang that song verbatim as to how it was written, it would still have my flavor because it's me singing it."

If you're being true to yourself, then you're going to be original without trying to be "original," Wooten says. He'll likely add some funk or R&B to any song he plays, even if it's a folky Lennon tune, but when arranging, you always have to keep the original composer in mind too.

Wooten also shared his thoughts on what he sees as a neglected art among jazz musicians: the art of showmanship.

Whereas performers in pop music might lack musicality but know how to put on a show, some serious players practice their instruments endlessly, but lack the "art of delivery," forgetting that jazz started as a dance music. Wooten thinks that taking cues from earlier eras of showmanship could do wonders for bringing new, excited audiences to the jazz scene.

For more insights from the bass master, be sure to watch our videos.

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