Artist, Ensemble: Jeff Midkeff
I’m Playing: Bass
Record Label: Etheria Music
Release Date: 2003
With its deft, thoughtful blend of classical, bluegrass, jazz and swing influences, Partners In Time is an outstanding debut by a musician who feels comfortable in more than one setting—musically and personally. “I feel at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains playing fiddle tunes,” Jeff Midkiff says, “but then again, I feel at home in a professional orchestra as well.”
Tim (Austin) went above and beyond the call of duty, too. He’s the one who recommended Robbie Link to play bass on the album. He said, ‘He plays your kind of stuff,’” Jeff says with a chuckle, “and that’s pretty rare. What I’m doing here, going across all these genres, isn’t something just anybody is going to be able to do, but Robbie really laid it down.” For percussion parts, Midkiff turned to an old Virginia Tech friend, jazz drummer Bill Ray.
At the center of the album are a half-dozen original compositions that reflect that creative burst, as well as the varied sources of Midkiff’s creativity and musical experiences. “’Alhambra’ is the oldest tune on the album, while ’Partners In Time’ was written this past summer, so it’s the most recent,” he notes. “’Grey Hawk’ was written after I left the Winterhawk bluegrass festival one year; the festival was changing its name to Grey Fox, so I combined the two for its title. That one pretty much popped into my head all at once. ‘Etheria,’ on the other hand, took a long time. I was listening to a recording of Itzhak Perlman playing the Bach E-major Partita, and it started me thinking about what I could do that would combine my classical ideas and my mandolin playing.”
Rounding out the album are four covers that pay more direct homage to Jeff’s inspirations. “Curtis and I have played a lot of Django Reinhardt’s music together,” he observes, “and ‘Lady Be Good’ and ‘Summertime’ are two we really like to do. ‘Summertime’ has always been one of my favorite tunes, whether out of Porgy & Bess or a jazz setting or even a bluegrass version. The other two are reflections of my earliest days as a bluegrass player and the environment I grew up in. ‘Liza Jane’ is a traditional tune I knew from childhood, but I don’t remember having actually done it until one day not too long ago. I started playing the tune and thought that with a little bit of arrangement, it would be really neat. I thought the album needed something that was really traditional but also showed where I am now musically. ‘Monroe’s Hornpipe’ is a tune that the late Dempsey Young of the Lost & Found—he was my first mandolin teacher—showed me when I was a kid. I wanted to play something fast on the album, and I always liked that one, so it was a natural choice.”