LOS ANGELES - Banjo master Bela Fleck has released more than 30 albums since 1978, but when asked to pick five album highlights for a Fleck playlist, the multiple Grammy Award winner happily obliges.
USA TODAY met up with Fleck here during a tour stop. Over the next few days he'll be in Alexandria, Va. (Wednesday), Tarrytown, N.Y. (Thursday), Northhampton, Mass. (Friday), and Princeton, N.J. (Saturday), as part of a bluegrass "Banjo Summit" featuring Fleck and other five-string masters.
Here's his list:
Meanwhile, Fleck says the Flecktones are on an "indefinite hiatus" that could last through 2017.
"It doesn't mean we split up," he says. "We just finished a year together. I was thrilled to get a year out of everybody. It was the best attendance ever, and musically off the charts. We had a wonderful time.
"Now everybody is doing their thing. I don't want the Flecktones to be something everybody has to do."
When band bassist Victor Wooten, percussionist Roy "Future Man" Wooten and harmonica player Howard Levy are ready, Fleck is happy to go back out on the road.
"After associating yourself with a group, you can fall into a rut. Unlike a marriage, where if you go outside a marriage, it can screw up the marriage, in a band, it's very healthy."
Fleck was interviewed while on tour with the Marcus Roberts Trio, a jazz combo he'll be performing with again later in the year.
He brought along his beloved 1937 Gibson Mastertone banjo to the interview - the one and only banjo that he'll play on stage. "It's my baby," he says. "If you're lucky, a musician gets to bond with an instrument. If you find that instrument, you're gold."
The banjo was worth $75 in 1937 and today would sell for more than $100,000, he says. (Fleck paid $4,000 for his and replaced the neck.)
He doesn't bring a backup banjo to gigs with him because without his Mastertone, he feels like biblical figure Samson, who lost his power after his hair was cut.
So when he travels, he buys an airline seat for the Mastertone, and "takes good care of it."