All That Jazz

04 Jun 2024

Tyler Kittle and We Three Swing light up the local music scene

By Marianne Leek

Tyler Kittle is an accomplished jazz musician and talented saxophonist who has made his home in western North Carolina with his partner Cara Rimmer and their cat Esme. When they’re not performing together, in their spare time you’ll likely find the two hitting local hiking trails, enjoying the natural beauty of the surrounding area.

Kittle first discovered he had an aptitude for and love of music as a middle school student growing up in Concord, NC, but by the time he attended college at Western Carolina University, he knew he wanted to play music “as much as possible.” In 2001, Kittle graduated from WCU with a degree in jazz studies. After taking some time to live abroad, Kittle eventually made his way back to the mountains of western North Carolina where he began to pursue his dream of making a living playing jazz music, but he refused to be confined to one genre of music. He explained, “While I love jazz the most, I have formed world music, surf, R&B and Latin bands in the area. I love all types of music and would never restrict myself to just one genre.” If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Kittle play live, you understand that his genuine passion for and love of all types of music, unique versatility and the fact that he’s wildly talented, make him a rare breed, especially in our rural, mountain communities.

While Kittle is highly regarded in the local live music scene, he’s well known within the broader industry having played with American R&B/soul artist Erykah Badu, as well as jazz musicians Russ Spiegel, Freddie Bryant and Michael Lowenstern. But even though he has worked with such music heavyweights, his “favorite moments are just playing local gigs with my friends for hip and appreciative audiences.” Local audiences can catch Kittle playing with the jazz collective We Three Swing every other Tuesday at Frog Level Brewing and Bevel Bar on the first Saturday of every month; both establishments are located in Waynesville, NC. Along with Kittle, We Three Swing features Michael Collings on bass and guitar, Duncan LeMay on piano and Cara Rimmer performing vocals. Kittle added, “We also have frequent collaborators like Elias Grimsley on drums, Steven Alvarez on guitar and Glen Basham on the violin. We bring in the best players from the area to fill in and sub when needed, thus the ‘collective’ part. Michael and I have been playing together for 15 years or more and other members have trickled in.”  Kittle plays at the Hummingbird Lounge on most Saturdays and is frequently joined by his partner, the very talented singer, Cara Rimmer.

When he’s not playing music for others, you’ll find him influencing this next generation of young people. He is a bit of a modern-day Renaissance man having taught Spanish, French, physical education, world cultures and podcasting classes at Summit Charter School in Cashiers and music courses at the alternative school in Jackson County. In addition to teaching, he has coached soccer, basketball and baseball. Kittle was also instrumental in helping Summit Charter establish golf and track programs and a conference so athletes could compete with other area schools. A natural teacher who values education and learning as an integral part of human development, Kittle added, “I love sharing my passions with people and inspiring them to pursue their own dreams.” He currently teaches private lessons and continues to teach ESL classes part-time at Southwestern Community College.

Grateful for his success and a loyal local following, Kittle realizes that musicians today face different challenges than he once did, “With platforms like TikTok. It's a completely different landscape. All I ever wanted to do was make enough money playing music to pay the rent, now everyone seems to be more of a marketer than a musician.” When asked what he’s currently listening to, Kittle said, “I love all types of jazz, world music, R&B and more. Sometimes I go through long periods where I don't listen to music at all. Lately, I have been listening to Freddie Hubbard, Los Amigos Invisibles, and some Ray Charles blues and country records.”

Kittle wishes to extend “a big thanks to venues, patrons and publications that support this music.” Be sure to make plans now to catch Tyler Kittle and We Three Swing at Frog Level Brewing and Bevel Bar in Waynesville, or Hummingbird Lounge at the Old Edwards Inn right here on the plateau.

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