Biography

Violinist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Duncan Wickel is a “Considerable talent…[he] is as persuasive in a traditional Irish ballad as he is country fiddling or ripping through cascading classical flourishes or atonal double stops” –The Boston Globe. A former native of Asheville, NC, now living and working in the heart of Boston’s thriving music scene, Duncan’s reputation has been growing quickly on a national level as a wildly diverse and highly accomplished improviser, composer and technician on the violin.  He is sought after for his stylistic mastery of Jazz, Irish, Old Time and Bluegrass music, captivating audiences and fellow musicians with his creativity as well as the subtle authenticity and chameleon-like ease in which he blends and changes styles.  Duncan “proves to be the standout performer, exploring his instrument more in-depth than one might have guessed one could with a fiddle.  He is doing exactly what artists do best, stretching the boundaries of his sound through experimentation and play.” –EDGE Boston.  “With bowing, plucking, rubbing and tickling, he could turn the violin into a whole orchestra.”-The Boston Phoenix

photo credit: Ben Walters and Alice Sebrell

Duncan’s studies began with classical violin training at age 4 and was soon after introduced to Irish fiddling “the early introduction of the challenge presented with juggling between two musical disciplines was really the key for my development in making creative musical choices while respecting and honoring tradition” He says.  “I was neither forced to stay true to my classical studies nor spread so thin that I would lose direction or discipline, and because of that, I got the best of both worlds.” Duncan continued to balance classical studies and gigs while honing his skills as an Irish fiddle player for the next ten years of his life.  At age eleven, he began seriously learning to play the uilleann pipes (a sophisticated type of bellows blown bagpipe, native to Ireland), which he quickly mastered over the next few years.  Today, Duncan still considers the pipes to be an important part of his musical identity and career.  Duncan’s love of traditional Irish music at a young age led to collaborations with some of the finest Irish musicians in the US and abroad.  He played his first gig with the legendary Irish guitarist and singer John Doyle at age 14, followed by years of sporadic touring and studio collaborations with John.  These opportunities opened doors for Duncan to work with such greats in the field as Liz Carroll, Mick Maloney, founding member of Solas accordionist John Williams, Sean Doyle, Compass records founders Alison Brown and Gary West and acclaimed singer songwriter Danny Ellis to name a few.  In 2006, John recommended Duncan as a fiddler, uilleann piper and whistle player to the renowned Irish-American singer Cathie Ryan, for her band, who he preceded to tour with for the following three years.

with John Doyle in 2003

In the midst of building a solid career as a touring and recording Irish musician, and maintaining his status as classical violinist performing solo and with professional orchestras, Duncan decided to further pursue his interest in jazz and improvisational music in his teen years.  By the time he moved to Boston to enroll in his first semester at the Berklee College of music, he had already become a solid improviser.  “He is incredibly dedicated and driven to improve, both as a musician and as a violinist. He is versatile, reliable, and well-rounded in his abilities” -jazz violin great and Duncan’s teacher at Berklee, Christian Howes, wrote of Duncan’s potential during his first year at school- “He is without question on a path to be one of the top jazz violinists of his generation.”  The Berklee string department selected Duncan as a two- time recipient of the Fletcher Bright Award in Recognition for outstanding musicianship, an honor that is bestowed once a year to a promising young string player at Berklee.

While still in his first semester, Duncan began to face the challenges of being a full time college student while keeping up with his demand in the music world outside of school.  He barely had a chance to settle into his regular class schedule before he was swept up to hit the road with Tapeire, a groundbreaking Celtic, jazz and hip-hop music and dance show from Scotland that was featured on Broadway in NYC and on Live with Regis and Kelly.  The show received major critical acclaim by press in the US and UK, and the following year, Duncan was commissioned to be Tapeire’s composer and music director for its final tour of the UK in 2009.

in 2010 With Matuto at the Blue Note in NYC

The list of personnel Duncan has directly collaborated with over the years onstage and in the studio is long and incredibly diverse, ranging from multi-platinum rap artist Wyclef Jean, to Irish and Celtic music stars, such as John Doyle, Cara Dillon, Cathie Ryan, James Devine, Jerry O’Sullivan, John Williams, Millish, Liz Knowles and Kieran O’Hare, to jazz greats like Ada Rovatti Brecker, Clay Ross, Matuto, Billy Contreras, Nick Falk, Eliot Wadopian, River Guerguerian and Bill Gerhardt, and also includes such folk, rock and singer songwriter greats as The Duhks, Mark Simos, Emily Elbert, Maeve Gilchrist, Chris Rosser, Danny Ellis, Billy Jonas and Fran McKendree, the Defibrillators, to name a few.  Duncan has also collaborated with concert orchestras directed by the great Maestro Jeff Tyzik and Dr. Robert Hart Baker.

 

Duncan has toured through the US extensively, performing in landmark venues and festivals such as the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC (three times with different projects), the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Carnival Center for Performing arts in Miami, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, The DC Jazz Festival, Milwaukee Irish Fest, Festival Internationale de Louisiane, ICONS festival, on the radio with Public Radio International’s Mountainstage and in legendary Jazz clubs such as the Blue Note and the 55 Bar in NYC, the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, DC, and the Dakota in Minneapolis.  He has also toured in the UK where he performed at the Olympia theatre in Paris, France, the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland and Union Chapel in London, England.

photo credit: Hannah Read

Duncan is a member of the Traditional Irish trio ‘the Red Wellies’.  Their self-titled debut CD has received rave reviews by the Irish times, the Irish Music magazine, Dirty Linen and other notable publications in the US and UK.  Duncan is currently promoting his new band ‘the Digables’, a high energy, original progressive jazz/rock group that has all the power of an electric band while maintaining the subtlety and intricateness of an acoustic-driven outfit on both electric and acoustic instruments.  The Digables sound is simultaneously Vintage and Modern, whacky and sophisticated, yet accessible and crowd-friendly.  Determined to stay true to his passion of studying Jazz in school, Duncan continues to divide a busy schedule between classes and gigs.  He teaches privately and composes, arranges and records music for a wide variety of clients and uses.

 

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