Bassist Victor Wooten and Colorado native Conni Ellisor team up on classical concerto

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Photo: Victor Wooten, electric bassist
Electric bassist Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten is known as the electric bassist for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. And to Rolling Stone readers, he's one of the 10 greatest on his instrument. He's got five Grammy awards.

Wooten recently embarked on classical concerto with Colorado native Conni Ellisor for the electric bass guitar. It's an instrument that’s rarely heard inside the symphony hall, though it’s a cousin of the double bass in the orchestra’s string section.

Photo: Conni Ellisor
Composer Conni Ellisor

Ellisor has served as composer-in-residence for the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. (She’s also the former concertmaster, or lead violinist, of the Boulder Philharmonic.)

Wooten and Ellisor both live in Tennessee and in September unveiled “The Bass Whisperer: Concerto for Electric Bass and Orchestra” with the Nashville Symphony. Wooten performs the piece on Saturday and Sunday with the Colorado Symphony for the regional premiere.

He plays several bass guitars in the piece, including a new instrument designed to be played with a bow. He demonstrates it in this video:

Wooten and Ellisor spoke with Ryan Warner about how they approached co-composing an orchestral piece, the unusual role the bass guitar plays in the music and the unique instrument Wooten uses in the composition.

Click the audio link above to listen. And in a bonus clip, Wooten talks about why he runs a camp that combines musical instruction with classes about nature:


Wooten on the unusual role the electric bass plays in the piece

"One of the things I wanted to make sure we did with the piece was not completely leave the role of what the bass guitar was made to do, and that is to support other musicians. So I wanted to do something that might seem a little bit different for a soloist, which was to get underneath the strings and the rest of the orchestra while they play on top and play the melodies."

Ellisor on how they collaborated on the piece

"He sent me a number of clips of different grooves he had done in his own studio and I heard immediately what he was talking about. I think it’s really unique -- this crossing over of what the electric bass does in the jazz world and funk world with a classical orchestra as his backup band or his lead band."

Wooten on how the concerto gave him a reason to create an electric bass that could be played with a bow

"For many years I’ve had the idea of being able to bow my electric bass, and it came from my early years, starting in the sixth grade, playing the cello. One of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard is a bowed instrument -- violin, cello, bass. … For me it’s a dream come true to finally have this sound that I’ve been hearing in my head for over a decade."