Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio



James W. (Jim) Kimball, Geneseo, New York (

Jim was born September 16, 1941, in Binghamton, Broom County, New York. He holds a Master's Degree and works as a teacher, musician, and speaker. He is a member of the American Folklore Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology.


Jim's heritage is English-Scots-Irish-French; his parents were born in Ithaca, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey. His mother played the violin before him; Jim began learning the violin in a junior high school class at Elyria, Ohio. He also sang in choirs and took more extensive lessons on piano. He learned music theory and history at the university level. He has participated in a few workshops and has played with old timers in various sessions. He has taught a number of times at the Pinewoods workshop in Massachusetts. The first fiddle tune Jim learned was Soldier's Joy, which he learned from a transcription of an older fiddler and also by hearing others play it. He names no particular favorite fiddle tune: "it often seems to be what ever tune I am playing at the moment." He also has no strong favorite fiddler, "but I am particularly [fond] of old-timers I have met and played with: Mark Hamilton, Ken Bonner among them. Alan Block was an early influence on me and I still enjoy hearing him when I get a chance."


Jim enjoys playing a variety of tunes, including old-time square dance tunes, quadrilles, singing call tunes, jigs, schottisches, polkas, and old-time songs. Occasionally he plays tunes in cross tuning. He is well versed in many instruments: bass, guitar, 5-string & tenor banjo, uke, hammered dulcimer, piano, accordions & concertina, some brass instruments, various small or pocket instruments (e.g. ocarina, jaw harp, harmonica, bones, spoons, etc. For fiddle backup, he appreciates piano, accordion, banjo, pump organ, 2nd fiddle, or guitar. He plays occasionally in church, has played for dances, other public performances, weddings and funerals, and at Irish and informal jam sessions.


Jim says he played in a few fiddle contests a long time ago but does not particularly enjoy them now. His first entry was ca. 1970, in Belchertown, Massachusetts. He remembers playing Larry O'Gaff, Morpeth's Rant & Swiss Waltz, with piano backup; his playing won him 3rd place. He played a contest in Hartford, Connecticut with quite a large crowd around 1975 and took 4th place in the open division. He judged a contest one time, gratis, not an activity he cares to repeat. He notes that a good fiddle contest judge wouldn't have to be a fiddler, but "I would like him or her to be a musician and a dancer in some related context [and possess the following qualities]: patience, openness, an enthusiastic appreciation of all fiddling, and a good sense of old-time dance music and spirit."


Jim calls his style "mixed, but mostly old-time New York, square dance, some Irish, some contra-dance." As mentioned above, earlier influences for him include Ken Bonner and Mark Hamilton. Of the styles present in his region, Jim answers "Mixed. Old-time local style is not common. Good Irish in Rochester, otherwise a mix of country, bluegrass, modern contra-dance, old-time southern, stylized north-east contest & Canadian." Jim and his band have released a tape, "Sackett's Harbor", on Sampler Records.


Jim's Strad-style violin is German, with a label reading "Mathias Hornsteiner, Mittenwald, 1872". Its sound is warm and responsive; he plays without a shoulder rest and prefers good quality steel strings, not necessarily one brand. He plays with various wood bows, most unlabeled. He enjoys collecting violins and occasionally trades them. Jim usually shops out his bow rehairing but has learned this skill, as well as building cases and a small harp.


"I like the music and the dancing, also the history behind it."


The tunes Jim recorded were learned from rural New York players. He learned Kenn Bonner Shuffle 20 years ago from Ken Bonner of Oswego County, New York; Quadrille in D 8 years ago from Mark Hamilton of Black Creek, Allegheny County, New York; and Bummer's Reel from Vic Kibler and Paul Van Arsdale, as well as an 1860's manuscript tune book. He provides his own accordion accompaniment thanks to overdubbing capabilities.