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Jeremy Kittel: The Future is Wide Open

How does this violinist and violist do so much—and still have time to romp around like a monkey?

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 amazing 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 presence. Since joining the Turtle Island Quartet, Kittel has increased his reputation as a rising star with multiple talents and enthusiasms.

“Jeremy never stops amazing me,” Turtle Island founder and violinist David Balakrishnan 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 perform 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 Washburn’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,” Kittel 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 reputation 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!”

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