‘The Music Lesson’ – Victor Wooten
I’m indebted to Interplay drummer Dave Balen for sharing this with me, and I want to pass it on.
Many people agree that Victor Wooten is one of the greatest bass guitarists ever – that title seems to undervalue both the instrument and its contribution to music in general and in his hands particularly – nevertheless it’s his preferred term.
In this book Victor sets out to describe a transformation in his musical approach and understanding that has made him the creative artist he is today. He offers his discoveries with disarming modesty and self-deprecating humour recounted in a readable and economic style that makes for genuine entertainment. Nevertheless without it becoming pretentious the message is substantial and all-embracing as the narrator (Victor) encounters the synergies between Music (capital ‘M’) and Life (capital ‘L’).
There is a quasi-mystical aspect to the book that some may find hard to accept. The teacher and his associates appear to live a mysterious and non-material life that nonetheless renders them exactly at the right place and time to interact with Victor in extraordinary ways. Those of us who remember Carlos Castaneda’s account of his experiences with Don Juan, the Yaqui Shaman in the Mexican desert, will appreciate Tony Levin’s reference on the book cover.
However that was in the 1960’s, and Wooten’s narrative is far more inclusive and benign, and free of dependence on mind-altering substances. I don’t need to resolve whether his narrative is true or a device – either way it’s a leap of imagination. What I take from the book is what it says about music (and Music), musicianship and creativity. The routines and rules we lay down for ourselves and adopt from others are capable of becoming the bars of a musical cage. The criticism we give ourselves and the goals we set can be the same.
Victor Wooten started playing at two years old by his own account, and as he grew up he became more distant from his instinctual musicality. At the start of the book he describes himself as a struggling bassist, not getting enough work, worried about paying his rent, and anxious about his standing in the musical marketplace. I suspect many of us can relate to this.
Victor’s journey as retold here is one of re-connecting himself with the innate knowledge of Music that engaged him and drew him on as a child – again, something that many of us can share. What I find truly liberating and illuminating is his realisation that he has done enough to relegate his concerns about musical structure and technique in favour of developing his contact with Music and allowing that to guide his development and performance.
By inference the same may be true for us all. I am certainly looking forward to finding out.