Music Legends Clarke & Wooten Share Stage

... and respect on new world tour

Words By Benjamin Michael Solis

Jazz icons Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten can’t throw a bowling ball to save their lives. But what they excel at is establishing the bass guitar as a melodic instrument in all forms of modern music.

Celebrating the re-release of Wooten’s seminal 1996 album “A Show of Hands,” and Clarke’s Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” for “Stanley Clarke Band,” the two musicians have paired up for a new world tour.

Setting up his equipment on stage before their gig two weeks ago at The Ark, Wooten told The Washtenaw Voice that having the chance to share the stage with a musician who heavily influenced his own playing is a dream-come-true.

“It’s incredible,” said Wooten. “As kid coming up playing, Stanley was it. And if you got to see him play at least once a year, you were lucky.

“Now I get to see him every night.”

Yet this is not the first time the two bass giants have collaborated live. In 2008 both Clarke and Wooten participated in the triple-threat pairing titled “SMV” with fellow four-string guru Marcus Miller.

And even though Wooten said that it is always hard to feel like an equal around Clarke, who was made famous for his involvement with Fusion pioneers Return To Forever, the 46-year-old musician has every reason to feel like a contemporary.

Starting his musical journey when he was only 3 years old, Wooten and his five brothers have been in the spotlight since before they were teenagers. Considered by some as the Jackson 5 of jazz, the Wooten Brothers have been playing together on and off since the late 1970s.

This tight-knit family connection was instrumental in shaping Wooten into the virtuoso he is today.

“When I was a kid, I saw what they did and wanted to do it, so they gave me a toy guitar to play with,” he said. “I was learning how to play at the same time I was learning how to talk. And the process is the same. So when I went to actually play the bass, it was natural.”

Even his signature technique, a type of upward and downward slapping that allows him to play blazing fast rudiments akin to drumstick strokes and flamenco guitar, was taught to him by his older brother and band-mate Regi Wooten.

It was this technique, along with Wooten’s universal spirituality, that garnered him the attention of industry heavyweights Bela Fleck, Dave Matthews, Chick Corea and Prince – to name a few.

With Regi and Joseph Wooten acting as key members of his band for this tour, Wooten said that the family affair helps him “feel at home all the time.”

“When I have my family and my brothers around me, I feel comfortable,” he said. “It is very rare to see me play live without someone in my family.”

Aside from the obvious blood-connection, Wooten said that his brothers are more importantly great players and they play in a way that showcases his own talent.

“It’s really big of them to do that, seeing that they are both my older brothers,” said the youngest Wooten, who acknowledged that having them there helps him relax while sharing the stage with a former idol and mentor like the legendary Clarke.

Wooten also confessed that he is becoming more comfortable with Clarke at each show they play.

“When I was on the SMV tour, there was Stanley and then Marcus and then me, and even at 46 I felt like the kid,” said Wooten. “We’re separated by a couple of (musical) generations and influenced me so much, it took me a while to feel comfortable around him.”

Yet Clarke had no qualms about describing Wooten as a peer.

“I met him when he was about 7-8 years old,” Clarke said in a backstage interview after playing at The Ark. “So I’ve known him a long time.”

Clarke, 59, whose band contains musicians ranging in age from 23-30 years old, is used to bringing along young new talent.

“It’s got to move forward,” he said. “It’s got to be passed along. But overall this tour has been a lot of fun. Victor is very good at what he does.”

So how do two bass legends spend their quality time together? In the allies, of course.

“We went bowling the other night,” Wooten said. “Neither of us are any good at it. We threw gutter balls almost all night long.”


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