Victor Wooten: Mastery

Last fall, my roommate Sam introduced me to a jazz bassist by the name of Victor Wooten. I was familiar with Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller, but for some reason Wooten snuck under my radar. There are sadly few tracks of his available on YouTube, but you can find several phenomenal solos and this classic tune, Yinin’ and Yangin’.

I had the pleasure of attending Wooten’s show at Yoshi’s the past week, and he blew me away. The most definitive aspect of Wooten’s musicianship, what truly distinguishes him, is not his rhythmic feel – which happens to be impeccable. It is not his melodic phrasing, which seems to transcend musical genres. Instead, it is his mastery of the instrument. He cradled the bass and plucked at its strings as if it were an extension of his own body. Whatever riff, chord, or run he conceived in his head, he instantly translated into astounding music.

Besides the musical enjoyment I get in attending, one of my favorite aspects of live shows is learning more about the performer, seeing him entertain, listening to his anecdotes, and forging a personal human connection out of what was initially distant admiration. Wooten stuck to the set list with few interruptions. About midway through the show, however, he shared a telling story about his upbringing and his musical education. The youngest of five brothers, Victor was indoctrinated into the musical art at “two years of age.” Apparently his brothers included him in their jam sessions about the same time Victor learned to walk, placing a bass in his tiny hands and gradually teaching him how to use it. Given how incredibly well Victor navigates a bass, I believe this story entirely. “Learning a (musical) instrument is the same as learning a language,” Wooten shared with his captive audience. I can only imagine how well I might play the piano right now if I had started lessons at 2 yrs old. Of course, I might still have hated lessons as a teenager, but I digress.

When Brian McKnight came to Yoshi’s last fall, he conveyed virtually the same childhood experience with music. A family of musicians, the McKnights exposed Brian at an early age to singing and the piano, such that by his teenage years he was performing complex compositions of all genres on the keys. For McKnight and Wooten, thanks to early beginnings, playing their respective instruments became “second nature.” They became masters of their craft. Regardless of one’s opinion of their music, this mastery cannot be denied.

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