Music: He's Finger-Pickin' Good

Bela Fleck takes the banjo from bluegrass into jazz and beyond

The Paganini, or maybe the Jimi Hendrix, of the five-string banjo recalls the first time he heard that instrument. "I was four or five years old," says Bela Fleck. "My brother and I were on my grandparents' bed watching TV when The Beverly Hillbillies came on. The theme music started, and I had no idea it was the banjo. It was Earl Scruggs in his prime. I only remember hearing something beautiful. It called out to me."

And Bela answered. At 31, Fleck has surpassed the semiretired Scruggs -- who, with guitarist Lester Flatt, fronted the nation's best-known bluegrass band from...

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