Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is a primarily instrumental group from the United States, that draws equally on bluegrass, fusion and post-bop, sometimes dubbed "blu-bop". The band formed in 1988, initially to perform once on the PBS series Lonesome Pine Specials. Its members are prominent virtuosos at their respective instruments. The Flecktones have toured extensively since then, often playing over 200 concerts per year. Each of the current members of the quartet has released at least one solo album. The band's name is a play on the name of the 1960s rock band Dick Dale and the Del-Tones.
Frontman Béla Fleck plays acoustic and electric banjos, mixing a bluegrass and folk sound into a modern improvisational style. Fleck has received Grammy nominations for performances in the jazz, bluegrass, pop, spoken word, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, and country categories--more categories than any other musician.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones use bluegrass, fusion of jazz, or anything else that catches their interest. They leave their music open to inspiration and have recently been incorporating a lot of African instruments. Because of the great variety in music Fleck has been nominated for awards in jazz, bluegrass, pop, spoken word, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, and country categories. Some Grammy awards include the 1995 Best Country Instrumental performance, 1996 Best Pop Instrumental performance, 1998 Best Instrumental Composition, 2000 Best contemporary Jazz Album, 2001 Best Instrumental Arrangement, 2006 Best Contemporary Jazz Album, and 2008 Best Pop Instrumental Album. Because they adopt so many musical styles it is hard to place Bela Fleck and the Flecktones into a single musical category and just as their music is diverse, so is their audience.
Brothers Victor Wooten and Roy "Future Man" Wooten form the rhythm section. Victor Wooten is widely lauded in jazz and bass-playing circles for his sometimes hyperkinetic slap and pop technique on bass guitar, and many consider him the leading bass virtuoso in music today. Futureman - the group's percussionist created the "drumitar" (a modified SynthAxe rigged to play percussion samples instead of a synthesizer), which is his innovation and contribution to the music.
Membership in the Flecktones has changed little since the band released its eponymous first album. Harmonica and keyboard player Howard Levy appeared on the Flecktones' first three albums. After Levy's departure, Fleck and the Wooten Brothers regrouped on the album Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the title a reference to Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the band beginning with the album Left of Cool.
The band went on an amicable year-long hiatus throughout 2005, during which the individual members toured frequently in other configurations. The Flecktones were active and touring again in 2006.
Victor Wooten was also a judge for the 4th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
On September 30, 2008, the band released Jingle All the Way, their holiday album. It received critical praise as well as one Grammy Award and one nomination in 2009.
Bela Fleck's motivation for going to Africa was to discover the origins of the banjo, an African instrument. He wanted to break down the stereotype that it is a white man's instrument/music. He was also trying to discover the original banjo prototype there. Released in 2009, Throw Down Your Heart is a film about Bela Fleck's travels to Africa to explore the roots of the banjo and to record an album with African musicians. While in Africa Fleck travelled through Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali where he "overcame cultural and language obstacles through music".
The Flecktones toured in 2010 with founding member and harmonica player Howard Levy for the first time in 18 years under the moniker "Béla Fleck and the Original Flecktones". The band returned to touring with Coffin for their holiday tour.
In 2011, a new album, titled Rocket Science, was released. It is an album of new material with the original Flecktones lineup, as Coffin is now playing full-time with the Dave Matthews Band. The song "Life in Eleven" won Best Instrumental Composition at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards.