Jeremy Kittel is used to having people comment on his age
whenever they hear him fiddle. Now a senior in jazz violin in the
School of Music, he was the winner of the U.S. National Scottish
Fiddle Championship in 2000, has been on National Public
Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” has played at
the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and has
produced two albums. All of this by the age of nineteen.
At the age of 5, Kittel began playing violin classically along
with his brother and sister. “I really liked it,”
Kittel says. “I started doing some fiddling when I was around
8 or 9 years old. I went to a Scottish games and Scottish festivals
… I saw fiddling there and thought it was really cool and
wanted to learn about it and play it. So we arranged to get a
couple lessons from someone in town.”
By the age of 12, he was competing nationally in Scottish
fiddling. At the age of sixteen he won the U.S. National Scottish
“The coolest thing about (competitions) was always getting
to meet all the other musicians and fiddlers who were there and
play with them and learn from them,” Kittel says. The U.S.
National Scottish Fiddle Championships are held at Scottish games,
complete with such traditions as haggis, Kittel says.
After winning the National Fiddling Championship, he decided he
wanted to get away from the competitive aspect of playing fiddle.
“Competitions are always really what one person or what a few
people — it’s their opinion on a certain day,” he
Kittel also felt that competitions were restrictive when it came
to developing a personal musical style. “I didn’t have
much freedom. I probably couldn’t play the way I do now at a
competition, so I wanted to more develop my own style of music.
It’s harder to do that in a competition setting.”
Kittel has begun experimenting with his style and has been
incorporating jazz. “I started to get really interested in
(jazz) at the end of high school and realized that it would be a
great thing to study in college even if I didn’t end up
playing jazz professionally. At this point I’d really like to
play jazz professionally. I’ve really fallen in love with
it,” he said.
His interest in jazz has influenced his second album, Roaming,
which is stylistically much different than his first album Celtic
Fiddle. Many of Kittel’s songs on Roaming are written by him
or are variations on previous songs. The songs vary from Scottish
to Irish, from jazz to classical and from reels to jigs. His CDs
can be found locally at Borders Books and Music and Elderly
Instruments and online at Cdbaby.com and Amazon.com.
One of Kittel’s current interests is improvisation.
“Improvisation brings so much freedom to music,” he
said. “For me, it’s the ultimate way to live in the
moment. I also love the interaction of communication that hopefully
occurs between improvi sing musicians.”
“If I’m playing a traditional tune, I’ll try
to take liberties with it,” Kittel says. “I’ll
take liberties creating new melodies while still preserving the
integrity of the tune. I try to do everything with an original
For all of the songs on Roaming but one, Kittel is accompanied
by guitarist John Behling, who, according to Kittel, played a big
part in Roaming. “John and I have been playing together for a
couple years. We first met playing in a jazz group together during
my freshman year of college.”
Throughout Kittel’s four years at the University, he has
worked most on jazz with Music Prof. Donald Walden, a saxophone
“Jazz is a language that’s spoken on many different
instruments, and that enables the musician to learn the jazz
vocabulary from somebody who doesn’t play the same instrument
as they do,” Kittel says. “That’s why I can take
(lessons) from a saxophone player.”
Kittel has also been taking lessons from a violinist at the
School of Music. Kittel feels that the musical qualities of the
saxophone and the violin compliment each other well.
Another one of Kittel’s interests has been writing his own
music. “Writing a piece usually begins with a really small
bit of material that comes to mind — maybe a melody or a
rhythm. If I’m lucky, that little fragment will inspire
another, the new material inspires another little bit, and so on
until the tune is finished. If a tune doesn’t naturally flow
out that way, I have to really think hard technically about how it
could work and what it needs next.”
Although Kittel has played at many prestigious venues, such as
the Kennedy Center and at Hill Auditorium for “A Prairie Home
Companion,” he doesn’t necessarily prefer those
performances to the smaller ones.
“Musically, the most fun gigs are usually not the most
glamorous gigs. The best musical experiences tend to occur in
smaller situations or when I’ve had time to really put a lot
into the music and practice for it.”
Kittel describes performing on stage as natural, even in front
of large audiences. “I really love making that connection
with an audience, and really feeling them enjoy it, and bringing
everybody together,” he said.
Kittel’s big upcoming performance is at 7:30 p.m. May 2nd
at The Ark. The student ticket price is $10 with ID. Information
can be found at Jeremykittel.com.
As for the future, Kittel plans to be based in Ann Arbor for the
next year. “I really want to perform for a while. I want that
to be my focus for many years to come. That’s what I really
want to go after right now.”