Music critic Michael Steinberg has praised his continuo playing. Turetzky has appeared as a featured soloist in the major music centers of the world. Turetzky is a versatile musician, conversant in chamber music, baroque music, classical, jazz, renaissance music, improvisational music and many different genres of world music. He has also developed a special affinity for klezmer music. In addition to The Contemporary Contrabass, Turetzky has co-edited a book series called The New Instrumentation; seven of a planned eight volumes have been finished. Turetzky wrote an introduction to The Autobiography of Pops Foster: New Orleans Jazz Man which spoke to the early development of jazz bass playing. Turetzky grew up in Norwich, Connecticut, and received a masters degree in music history from the University of Hartford.
In his youth, he was drawn to classic jazz music, playing professionally in that style at his first performances. His aspiration to be a jazz player was encouraged by many of the older swing stars. Turetzky continues to play classic jazz, and appears regularly at jazz festivals. Turetzky first recorded in 1964, featuring the work of American composers George Perle, Edgard Varèse, Donald Martino, Kenneth Gabburo, Ben Johnston, and an early instrument and tape piece by Charles Whittenburg. Recording activities continued with records on labels Nonesuch, Son Nova, Ars Antigua, and Desto.
He has worked with Charles Mingus, and has made a series of recent recordings on the Nine Winds label with improvisational musicians George Lewis, Vinny Golia, Wadada Leo Smith, Mike Wofford and others. Turetzky is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego. His most accomplished former students are bass virtuosos Mark Dresser and Karl E. H. Seigfried; Dresser now holds Turetzky's former UCSD faculty position, while Seigfried is working with Turetzky on the latter's autobiography. He is married to flutist Nancy Turetzky, and they have two sons and a daughter, and keep many cats in their Del Mar, California home. He also plays the guitar, piano, and banjo.
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