Jeremy Kittel Band
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Jeremy Kittel Band

Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2007 | INDIE | AFM

Brooklyn, New York, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2007
Band World Celtic

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THE FUTURE IS WIDE OPEN
How does violinist and violist
Jeremy Kittel do so much— and still have time to romp around like a monkey?
It’s the zillion-dollar question.
Given all that is demanded of today’s hard-working, globe-hopping, multifaceted, multi-instrumental musicians, how does a modern-day professional fiddler-violist-violinist sustain the necessary enthusiasm, maintain a steady flow of energy and—against all odds—somehow avoid burning out?
In other words, how much is too much?
“Um, I’m really not sure I’m qualified to give advice on that,” offers Jeremy Kittel, punctuating his remark with a big, self-effacing laugh. “I think the evidence shows,” he finally allows, “that I don’t always know how much is too much.
“But, that’s the way I like it.”


Kittel, 27, is the violist for the Grammy- winning Turtle Island Quartet, and the fiddling frontman of his own eponymous band. He writes, performs (as an orchestral soloist, chamber player, and bandleader), records, and teaches. His list of recent proj- ects matches in number what many musi- cians accomplish in a full decade. Last year, he contributed viola to the video score of Infa- mous 2, a violent Sony PlayStation 3 game that has an unlikely soundtrack featuring a bass, two cellos, viola, and violin.
“I hope that in the near future we’ll begin to see this medium of entertainment turn towards ever more artful ways; giving us an immersive, dramatic experience that brings us enjoyment, perspective, and knowledge that we can take back with us into our real lives,” Kittel wrote in a blog on his website. “It’s really just the beginning. In the mean- time, I guess I’ll just use my electromagneto- statico superpowers to hurl this Volvo towards that dastardly helicopter. . . . ”
On the road for more than 60 percent of the year (“I’m not home more often than I am, I guess!” Kittel says), his home time is either spent rehearsing for one of his own gigs or writing string arrangements for one of his musical colleagues. His taste in music spans the continuum between classical and traditional, folk and rock, jazz and pop.
He attends to his own website (jeremykittel.com) and blogs regularly about his thoughts, passions, and musical adventures.
And if his website is to be believed, he relaxes by engaging in something called “monkey conditioning.”
There’s a video.


What’s remarkable about Kittel’s workload is how unremarkable it is, in the big picture. These days, it’s rare to find an up- and-coming string player who doesn’t do 20 different things, or one who only performs with but a single orchestra or ensemble. To make it as a musician in the 21st century, it seems a string player must be a Jack or Jill of all trades. Where Kittel excels is in making it all look so easy . . . and so fun. Kittel, in more ways than one, is a prime example of strategic overachievement in practice. And as such, he knows a thing or two about the importance of staving off that aforementioned burnout.


“Burnout? That’s always the fear, isn’t it?” he says, talking on the phone from his home in Oakland, California. “There have defi- nitely been points in my life where I’ve gone a little overboard, doing a lot of things at once, pursuing one too many projects. New ideas, new experiences, they are really excit- ing, but I can’t forget I have to be careful not to lose focus of the practical side of things. I have to know my limits.
“I’ve had to think about this a lot,” he continues. “When you are in the kind of position so many of my fellow musicians are in, of having a lot of projects in the works all the time, what you have to do, I think, is just keep yourself inspired. You need to create an environment where there’s always something that gets you excited, something that makes you want to do your best. If you do that, you won’t burn out as easy. If you don’t love something about what you are doing, if it doesn’t inspire you in some way, then your body can’t always keep up. So you need balance— and for a certain period of your life, balance may mean hanging out with friends and playing music all day.”

Kittel was born in Michigan, where he grew up alternating between classical training and various fiddle camps and music festivals, experiences he sees as more than just inspirational. “There’s such an honesty in those places,” he says, “an honesty in everyone’s love for music. And there’s a real lack of ego, more than I’ve experienced in any environment I’ve been in. It’s an amaz- ing scene to be a part of.”
He attended the University of Michigan School of Music, where he developed a taste for jazz, graduating at 20 with the Stanley Medal, the school’s highest musical honor. He was the first recipient of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin, and he caught the ear of critics and fans alike when he recorded as a soloist on the multiple Grammy Award– winning CD Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Bolcom.
At 23, he earned a masters degree in jazz violin from the prestigious Manhattan School of Music and went on to perform with top symphonies as well as fiddle- phenom-turned-crossover classical great Mark O’Connor and Darol Anger’s bluegrass- oriented Republic of Strings.
By the time he joined the Turtle Island Quartet three and a half years ago, Kittel already had established himself as a first- rate improviser, equally skilled in the worlds of jazz, classical, and Celtic fiddling, with a growing reputation for energy and technical precision, and an exhilarating stage pres- ence. Since joining the Turtle Island Quar- tet, Kittel has increased his reputation as a rising star with multiple talents and enthu- siasms.
“Jeremy never stops amazing me,” Turtle Island founder and violinist David Bal- akrishnan says. “And, of course, he never actually stops!”


Over the course of the last year, in addition to recording and touring with the Turtles, while continuing to garner praise for his critically acclaimed 2010 solo CD Chasing Sparks (his fourth recorded solo effort), with a guest appearance by bassist Edgar Meyer, Kittel somehow found time to write and per- form strings on Circuital, the celebrated new release by rock band My Morning Jacket, from Louisville, Kentucky. Earlier, he saw the release of singer/songwriter Abigail Wash- burn’s groundbreaking record City of Refuge, on which he played and composed the string arrangements (see ‘On Recording the “City of Refuge” Sessions’), and he briefly joined the Canadian progressive bluegrass-fusion band the Duhks on a tour of roots-music festivals.

Though he’s been performing less often with symphony orchestras, Kittel does still continue to make an occasional appearance as a classical soloist (including stints with the Vancouver Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestras, among others).

“My biggest ongoing project, outside of the Turtles, of course, is my own band,” Kit- tel adds. As soon as the current cluster of Turtle Island appearances is done, Kittel is taking the Jeremy Kittel Band on the road for a tour—and the excitement in his voice is clear. Featuring core members Nathaniel Smith, of Mississippi, on cello; Josh Pinkham, of Florida, on mandolin; and Simon Chrisman, of Boston, on hammered dulcimer, the Celtic-jazz-blues-chamber- bluegrass ensemble has built a strong repu- tation for the drive and spontaneity of its onstage performances, and the foursome’s near-indescribable fusion of styles.
Think of it as small-scale orchestral jazz- folk.
“I’d like to see us push it even farther in that direction in the future,” Kittel says, “more toward that small-scale orchestral sound. I’m really excited about that whole scene. There’s so much exciting energy there. Small-scale music can be just as powerful— and sometimes even more powerful—than large-scale music. I have so much fun with these guys!”
It’s that sense of sheer about-to-burst enthusiasm, along with a deep awareness of connection Kittel feels with the various art- ists he performs with, that serves as the go- getting musician’s most powerful antidote to burnout.
“It really does help, I think, to do as many different things as I do,” he says. “I kind of figure, wow, I get to enter all of these differ- ent musical worlds. When I join a band for a weekend and go play in a folk festival in North Carolina, and then go play in a con- cert hall in Naples, then go play in a Bonna- roo festival—which I finally got to do this summer—it’s all so energizing.
“For me, it really is eye-opening—or ear- opening, I guess—to be able to step into all those different musical landscapes. Your mind has no choice but to open up to differ- ent values, to the way different people think and operate. And when your mind is so open, you find a lot of strength and energy in that.”’

“It’s possible to overdo it, for sure,” he adds, laughing again. “But if you can find a way to be open, so that you’re able to learn all the time and keep a good head space— wow! That makes all the difference. That’s what’s vital—to always let your heart be open to the people and experiences around you.”

WHAT JEREMY KITTEL PLAYS
Jeremy Kittel most frequently plays a contemporary violin by Wladek (Walter) Stopka, a Polish maker living in Chicago. Stopka began making instruments in Krakow in 1978. In 1989, after emigrat- ing to the United States with his family, he established his own shop in the Chi- cago suburb of Hickory Hills. “Walter Stopka,” Kittel says, “is a wonderful vio- lin maker. The one I have is a new violin, about two years old—and it’s a beautiful instrument.”
Kittel also plays a 2000 violin by Czech maker Miroslav Komar. As for violas, Kittel is in the process of look- ing for a long-term instrument.
—D.T. - Strings Magazine


Jeremy Kittel in Irish Music Magazine
May 19, 2010
Jeremy Kittel: Chasing Sparks
Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Irish Music Magazine
Article by Helene Dunbar

“Fusion” has been a buzzword in Irish music for a while now. Technically defined as “The merging of different elements into a union”, in trad, it usually manifests by a jazz or rock groove being added to whatever traditional piece is being played by a traditional group.

Even in the realm of fusion though, fiddler Jeremy Kittel is unique. A rewarded and accomplished musician in the genres of Celtic, jazz, and classical, Kittel’s new CD “Chasing Sparks” is not meant to be a fusion album but a trad album made by an artist who is constantly trying to stretch his own boundaries.

“I wrote most of these tunes with no intention of combining styles – rather, they were just embellishments of melodies and sounds that were floating around in my head,” says Kittel. “The first CD I did (2000’s ‘Celtic Fiddle’) was more traditional - and I love playing trad tunes - but I had a period of a few years where I was writing a lot of fiddle tunes that were a little quirky in some way or a little bit different like in B major or with a different melodic structure than usual. I wanted the record to be focused around these new melodies and I wanted to use them for branching out into new arrangements and to have some improvisations in there. “

“The record I did just before was a total straight-ahead jazz record – my first foray into that – so I didn’t want to do a really obvious fusion where it was just a funk groove or a swing groove over a trad tune. I wanted to these tracks to be really exciting and interesting but I wanted the fiddle tunes and the trad sound of it to be at the melodic core of the whole record. I think I ended up keeping it pretty much in that vein. “

It probably helps to know that Kittel plays viola with acclaimed crossover jazz outfit Turtle Island Quartet. He graduated from the University of Michigan at 20, earning their highest musical honor, the Stanley Medal, and has a Master of Music from Manhattan School of Music. On the Celtic side, he was the 2000 US National Scottish Fiddle Champion and Junior National Champion of 1998 and 1999. He has won numerous awards for jazz performance, improvisation, competition and teaching including the 2005 and 2006 Detroit Music Awards for Outstanding Folk Artist, 2006 Detroit Music Awards for Outstanding Jazz Album and Outstanding Jazz Composer.

But a large part of his heart is in trad which he discovered as a pre-teen in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I started playing violin when I was about 5 years old,” he says. Although he initially studied classical music, Kittel says “I wasn’t really in love with it. I liked it and I was good and it and I sort of kept on going with it. I thought music was fun and all but when I was about 11 or 12 – that’s an age when a lot of kids get into music really heavy – I really got into it. Instead of gravitating towards Jimmy Hendrix and learning to play guitar though, I was going to The Ark in Ann Arbor and to see Solas, Martin Hayes, and all of these great touring artists who were playing Celtic music. I remember seeing Celtic Fiddle Festival and Kevin Burke. That first year of seeing concerts was when I felt like I was really connecting with music and trad was really the first music that I latched onto. It was so inspiring, and exciting, and mysterious. I kept wondering ‘how do they do it?’ There was so much going on in this music and that was really my window for getting hooked onto music as a whole. And since then I’ve discovered that the world of music and art is so much bigger than you can explore in one lifetime but you can try. “

Soon he was attending Wednesday night sessions. “I’d be the only kid in a bar filled with smoky vibes and raucous adults. I was just picking out these tunes to train my ear and having a great time.” He was taken under the wings of local fiddlers Marty Somberg and Evan Chambers (also a classical composer). He also learned from County Clare born Mick Gavin, a staple of Detroit’s Irish scene as a teacher and event organizer. “There’s a good bunch of people up there,” says Kittel. “I had a lot of support in those early years – people who helped me get started. And I’m grateful for that.”

Kittel soaked up as many lessons as he could from his musical mentors. “I was always pretty willing to pick up whatever older people had to offer and willing to listen. I think that was definitely beneficial and I learned a lot. At some point you realize that not everyone knows what they’re talking about and you have to stand up and say no to things. Some people are really, right off the bat doing what they want to do and won’t take anything else and they’re fearless and follow their instincts and that’s all come a bit later for me. “

So far Kittel has managed to follow his own path, playing what he wants to regardless of the genre or the naysayers that he’s encountered. “I’m a firm believer that you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin but I’m also a firm believer that you can be bilingual or trilingual. People do it with spoken languages so why not music? It takes a lot of time and a big investment in music but obviously there are tons of people who can do it. And I did encounter some resistance to that idea when I was growing up – people who thought I should stick with one or the other or this and that, but I’ve found that it’s working for me to follow what I really love and try to learn as much as I can, and keep my ears open and my mind open to new ideas.”

“Chasing Sparks” was recorded over a two year period, in four cities (New York; Oakland, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Nashville, Tennessee) mostly to accommodate Kittel’s guest artists who, not surprisingly, are a diverse and gifted group. Kittel’s core band which includes guitarist Kyle Sanna (an arranger for Yo-Yo Ma), cellist Tristan Clarridge (a member of Crooked Still) and world drummer Bodek Janke were joined on the album by mandolinist Chris Thile (of Americana group Nickel Creek), Bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall (formerly of the David Grisman Quintet), cellist Natalie Haas (Alasdair Fraser’s musical partner) and Brittany Haas (Crooked Still).

Although the album features some wonderful reinterpretations of familiar trad favorites such as “The May Morning Dew” and “The Rolling Waves”) it is the original material on the album that Kittel is most proud of. “I particularly like ‘The Chase,’” he says “with its time signature being mostly in 7 and with triplets moving from one to the next. It turned out like a little story and has an epic feel to it. Actually a lot of the tracks on this album feel epic to me. I like a bit of drama,” he laughs.

Another track that he is particularly fond of is ‘Remember Blake’ which was “written for a friend of mine; a trad guitarist who passed away at age 23. I was about 19 when he passed away and when I turned 23 or 24 I realized that he was gone when he was my age so it was even a bit more meaningful then; that I was still around and getting to live life. The tune captured some of the same feeling for me. I wanted it to be a little more impactful so I asked Mike (Marshall) to record on top of what we’ve already done. He laid down a mandolin track that is just beautiful and really heartfelt.”

Overall though, Kittel credits Janke’s percussion for his success in making an album that stays true to its traditional roots. “It was strange playing with Bodek for the first time,” recalls Kittel. “Because most drummers play kit drum or full sets, they don’t know what to do with trad or folk music. They always try to stick a rock groove on it – they don’t have any idea. But what he did from the beginning was play something complimentary and yet it added a whole lot to the sound and didn’t require any of us to change the way we were playing. We could still play in a very trad way and keep our articulation and phrasing.”

It’s no real surprise that Kittel has a lot of diverse activities on his plate. He is aiming to tour this album in between Turtle Island gigs and is in growing demand as an arranger. When we spoke, he was at the home of another genre-bender banjoist Bela Fleck and his wife, clawhammer banjoist Abigail Washburn recording Washburn’s next album. “I’ve been working for the last week almost non-stop on the arrangement for Abby’s record and there is going to be, at some points, 12 parts of strings. It sounds almost like an orchestra. That’s a totally new challenge for me that I wasn’t sure I could meet but it’s going really well. And I’ve been loving it.”

“You just challenge yourself and go for it,” he surmises. And if there was ever a motto that summed up Kittel’s approach to music, that would be it. - Irish Music Magazine


"Over an hour of fiddle music, from the devilish to the divine, played by a consummate musician whose style and repertoire sit somewhere between Nashville and Nairn.…Let me stress again that he is a brilliant and exciting young fiddler… More than half the material here is credited to Kittel, and there isn't a weak link in the chain. It's fresh, it's fun, and it's technically excellent. Chasing Sparks? Jeremy Kittel kicks up enough of his own. Very highly recommended." – FOLK WORLD - Folk World


"Jeremy KIttel is at the Vanguard of a whole new movement in fiddle music. In times past fiddlers stayed within their assigned genres and didn't manage to cross over very effectively. Jeremy is a new kind of hybrid musician that is equally versed and comfortable in many genres. He has a tremendous capacity to seamlessly blend inventive ideas and techniques from other genres into Irish and Scottish tunes. He does this with stunning virtuosity." - Martin Hayes


Discography

Solo discography:

2010 "Chasing Sparks" Compass Records - featuring the Jeremy Kittel Band with special guests Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Mike Marshall.

2005 "Jazz Violin" Fiddlestick Records
Detroit Music Award for Outstanding Jazz Recording

2003 "Roaming" Fiddlestick Records
Tracks heard internationally on NPR's "Thistle and Shamrock" and many folk stations.

2000 "Celtic Fiddle" Fiddlestick Records

Photos

Bio

Jeremy Kittel has earned a reputation as one of the most exceptional violinists and fiddlers of his generation. With tremendous musicality; a rare mastery of styles as diverse as jazz, Scottish and Irish fiddle, bluegrass, classical music, and more; a unique compositional voice, and an “exhilarating stage presence” (Strings Magazine), Kittel inspires listeners and fans worldwide through his solo work and collaborations.

 

As a leader, he performs with his own Jeremy Kittel Band (quartet), as well as intimate duo and trio formats, and also as a soloist with orchestras. In collaboration, he is frequently called upon by some of today’s most influential and vibrant artists in a variety of genres; he has recorded and performed with musical giants My Morning Jacket, Jars of Clay, Mark O’Connor, Abigail Washburn, Camera Obscura, Bela Fleck, Laura Veirs, Aoife O’Donovan, Paquito D’Rivera, Stefon Harris, and many more. He also recently completed a five-year full time position in the Grammy-winning Turtle Island String Quartet.

 

His most recent solo recording, Chasing Sparks (Compass), features his original compositions with a stellar cast of musicians including special guests Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Mike Marshall, and has garnered rave reviews among acoustic music circles worldwide.

 

Committed to nurturing future generations of musicians, he is a passionate clinician and educator and regularly teaches at programs such as Belmont Strings Crossings, International Music Academy of Pilsen, Mark O’Connor Strings Conference, Swannanoa Gathering, and schools and universities worldwide.

 

He currently resides in beautiful Brooklyn, NY and can sometimes be spotted climbing trees and wandering the wild woods of Central and Prospect Parks.

Band Members