Jeffrey started playing bass at age 12. He went through intensive training at one of the nation’s first visual and performing arts magnet school programs. He studied bass with first and second chair Milwaukee Symphony bassists Roger Ruggeri and the wonderful Karel Netolička. He was first chair in the UW and the Milwaukee youth orchestras and traveled abroad to the international festival of youth orchestras in 1980. He played throughout the Milwaukee region performing music from baroque to the avant-garde.
At 23, Jeffrey joined the full-time group at local Milwaukee landmark Stari Grad Serbian Restaurant, where he first encountered world music. This group had a repertoire of the widest possible variety of music from many nations. (He would later take up the Cimbalom, which was among the instruments in that group.) After moving to Tucson to work as Assistant Principal Bass with the Tucson Symphony, he continued his studies with Patrick Neher and completed his bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Arizona.
Jeffrey has performed with:
The Tucson Symphony, The New Mexico Symphony, The Tucson Pops, The Tucson Community Chorus, The Tucson Boy’s chorus, Tucson Masterworks Chorus, Waterloo Music festival, Orchestra Stari Grad, the Klezmopolitans, the UA Balalaika Orchestra, Finestream Gamelan, the Molehill Orkestrah, Balkan Spirit (trio with cimbalom) Seido Salifoski & Mansur Hatic’ (at the East European folk life Balkan gathering), Matt Mitchell, Susan Artemis, Jeff Grubic, Howard Wooten, Todd Hammes, Mark Mantel, Scott Jeffers, and many others.
When did you start playing your instrument? 1973
Why did you choose the bass? >Because it was something I could feel in my gut. I liked the powerful sound.
Are you from a musical family? No. I grew up in an adoptive home, plus 5 foster homes and time in orphanages and other institutions. None of these were particularly musical - except for my last foster Dad. I moved in with him when I was 16. He was an organist and organ builder in addition to directing a public library. He took me to many Milwaukee and Chicago Symphony concerts and we talked a lot about music. I had already been playing for a 4 years when we met.
Do you play any other instruments? I play the Cimbalom!
What makes your instrument special? It often has the first or last word. It is the foundation. It is the most severe voice in the orchestra. It can swing. It can rock. It can funk. It can bluegrass. It can jazz. It can gypsy. It is perhaps the closest instrument proportionally to the human form.
What advice would you give to kids learning to play the bass? Become a curious and expert listener - and practice! Basses are fragile, temperamental, expensive and hard to transport. Be prepared for that.
If you could play a different instrument, what would it be? Besides mastering cimbalom, which I shall never do, I would take up a small instrument like the guitar or Nak Tarhu!
Favorite composers: Short list: Respighi, Berio, Hovhaness, Harrison, Partch, Martinů, Dvorak, Górecki, Ligeti, Liszt, Bartók, Kodály, Dohnányi, Kurtág, Orff, Brahms, Mahler, Haydn, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Britten, Sibelius, Sallinen, Satie, Debussy, Dutilleux, Ravel, Gounod, Chausson, Franck, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns, d’Indy, Dukas, Messiaen, Couperin, Boismortier, Borodin, Rimsky Korsakov, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Villa-Lobos, Cowell, Hanson, Ives, Tan Dun, Goran Bregović, David Shea, Mark Mantel
Guilty musical secret: I like oriental and gypsy music better than western music sometimes!
Funny Musical Experience: Playing Serbian wedding music in a Hawaiian bar.
New Years while playing bass a drunk grabs and clings to my leg as they are trying to haul him out.
Jamming with cimbaloms, hackbretts, nickelharpas, button accordion and harp guitars all together at the Cimbalom congress in 2007.
Most exciting musical moment: Hearing Taraf de Haidouks perform!
Oh, playing...Backing up Ray Charles with TSO...Backing up Dave Brubeck as a kid when I was in youth orchestra or when that orchestra went to the British Isles for the international youth orchestra festival.
What might your career be if you hadn’t chosen to be a musician? Scientist, Politician, Yoga instructor, Monk.
Hobbies: Swimming, reading, community involvement, cimbalom, yoga, racing my 100-foot sailboat, climbing K2 (the usual stuff).
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Interesting personal fact: I’m a post-conventional human.
Three favorite movies: Time of the Gypsies, Himalaya, Go West. (This is always in rotation)
What good book have you read most recently? Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts.
Favorite Tucson restaurant? Govinda’s
Desert island must have/three favorite possessions: My bass, my cimbalom and my recordings (Of course none of that would last on a desert island)...and no swimsuit!