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Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is an American band that combines jazz and bluegrass music. The band's name is a play on 1960s rock band Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. The Flecktones formed in 1988 when Béla Fleck was invited to perform on the PBS TV series The Lonesome Pine Specials. The original members were Fleck on banjo, Victor Wooten on bass guitar, his brother Roy Wooten on Drumitar, and Howard Levy on harmonica and keyboards. After Levy's departure in 1992 the group continued as a trio for several years until recruiting Jeff Coffin in 1997 on saxophones. Coffin quit the group in 2010, and Levy rejoined in 2011.
Near the end of his time with the New Grass Revival band, Fleck was invited to play for the Lonesome Pines Special on PBS in 1988, and he gathered a group of musicians to assist him. Howard Levy he had met the year before at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Victor Wooten auditioned over the phone and volunteered his brother Roy as a potential member.
After the PBS performance, Fleck decided to keep the group together, calling it Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. His compositions became more complex. The Flecktones merged bluegrass with jazz, presenting record store owners with the problem of where to stock the albums by these strange characters. The covers bore cartoons and titles like Flight of the Cosmic Hippo. Fleck was named after classical composer Bela Bartok and grew up in New York City, but he played electric banjo and was influenced by the Kentucky bluegrass of Earl Scruggs and "The Ballad of Jed Clampett". Victor Wooten broke into jazz bass solos. Wooten's brother Roy called himself "Future Man", sometimes dressed like a pirate in concert, and played an odd-looking instrument known as the drumitar. Melodies were usually taken by Howard Levy, who played harmonica and keyboards. Their first video, "Sinister Minister", was in rotation at the networks VH-1, which played pop and adult contemporary music; BET, the Black Entertainment channel; and Country Music Television. They performed at jazz festivals with soul singer Stevie Wonder, blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt, and the Christian a capella group Take 6. Deadheads, fans of the Grateful Dead, were interested.
In February 2006, the band released their tenth album, The Hidden Land. As with every Flecktones album, they needed to change something from their last album. For The Hidden Land, the Flecktones didn't want any guest musicians. "'The truth is, the last few records are not what we are,' Fleck said. 'Obviously, we loved playing with those musicians, but if you keep on doing it, you become a gathering point rather than a group with its own identity.'" For the Flecktones to keep moving forward, they felt their music had to get back to the roots of the quartet.
In June 2012, following another summer tour, the Flecktones announced their hiatus as a band. In January 2016, the Flecktones announced a short reunion tour scheduled for June 2016, confirming an appearance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on June 16, 2016. In 2017, the band announced concerts for June–August 2017, and also confirmed a tour with Chick Corea Elektric Band in August 2017.
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