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Flea Goes Back To School

The Red Hot Chili Pepper's bassist, Flea, is in his freshman year at the University of Southern California's music program.
Dave Hogan
Getty Images Entertainment
The Red Hot Chili Pepper's bassist, Flea, is in his freshman year at the University of Southern California's music program.

As a member of the multiplatinum rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea wouldn't seem to need higher education to further his career. But the bassist has just enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California's music program. For Flea, it's an opportunity to learn the academic side of music.

"I studied music at the most remedial level when I was a kid, through the Los Angeles public schools, with a little private instruction," Flea says. "All my career, all that I've really done has been based on emotion and intuition and gravitating toward what sounds good."

Like any other freshman music major, Flea is starting at the beginning with Bach's chorales and his four-part harmonies. It's a different world from that of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but Flea says it's useful anyway.

"Music is made up out of these building blocks," he says. "Studying how these blocks go together and what they consist of and the math of how it works — it's all the same stuff; it's just different aesthetics that we're talking about."

As he takes these classes, Flea says, he sees what concepts his band has been using all along. But now, learning the basic formations of chord progression and harmonies, he's looking to expand himself as a composer and a musician.

This isn't Flea's first foray into music education. Eight years ago, he started the Silver Lake Music Conservatory. The nonprofit music school came about when Flea revisited his old school to find that its band rooms were abandoned for budgetary reasons. He said he was so crushed that he called his childhood friend and music teacher, Keith Barry, to start a program that now boasts 600 students.

"We want to give music education to any kid that wants it," Flea says.

Saturday night is the school's fourth annual school benefit, called the Hullabaloo, which features performances by jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, vocalist Roberta Gambarini, members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Flea himself and the students.

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