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Checking in No. 4: Gina Sobel

Gina Sobel has delved into a variety of musical genres including indie-folk, funk, jazz and traditional Sephardic music. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.
No matter what style of music she performs, whether it's traditional Sephardic music, funk,  or indie-folk, there's a foundational element of jazz and improvisation in Gina Sobel's music. It was instilled in childhood. She grew up in a household with a father who played  jazz guitar and encouraged her to improvise. Photo by Jonathan Timmes. 

The fourth installment of Checking in features a multi-talented artist named Gina Sobel - a singer, songwriter, flute player, guitarist, composer and bandleader who splits her time between Virginia and California.

Sobel grew up in Annandale, Va in a household filled with the sounds of jazz, thanks to her guitar-playing father. 

“When  I was little, I remember listening to my dad's trio rehearsing in the house and just being around and hearing it and soaking it up,” says Sobel.

When she turned ten, she started playing the flute in school and in a couple of years she was proficient enough to play the melodies of the jazz tunes that her father’s trio was rehearsing.  

“I would get them to let me play along on Autumn Leaves or whatever,” says Sobel. “Then, a couple years later, someone said, ‘Hey, you can't play with us anymore unless you start improvising.’ And so I did. That's when I started, and, kind of grew up with that sort of expectation of if you want to participate, you have got to participate all the way,“ she says.

Gina Sobel in performance with her father Mike Sobel. Photo by Bubba Martin.
Gina Sobel in performance with her father Mike Sobel. Photo by Bubba Martin. 

Her particular combination of talents – singing, playing flute and guitar, writing songs, composing and leading bands - has led her to create music in a wide array of styles. She’s led jazz combos, she started a funk group, there’s a duo project with drummer Joey Antico, there are indie-folk projects and she plays with a band called Minnush that specializes in performing the traditional music of Sephardic Jews (The Sephardic culture traces its roots to the Jewish people who lived in Spain and Portugal until they were expelled in the late fifteenth century. The music is in a language called Ladino, or Judeo Spanish. Learn about Gina Sobel’s apprenticeship to study and perform Sephardic music here).  

For Sobel, the pandemic has been hard but there have been some positives. She feels the break in her hectic touring schedule has been a good thing. While she misses the interaction and excitement of live performance, she has found interesting ways to collaborate with other musicians online. An example is a series she calls “Tuesday Trades” in which she connects with other performers and they live stream the conversations on facebook and Instagram while taking turns playing songs to each other.

“I find the direct to camera live stream thing, really sterile and hard to hard to do,” Sobel says. “It's kind of exhausting, and I appreciate … the little clap emoji in the comments, but there's nothing like looking at someone's face and, and playing a song to them,” says Sobel.

In this segment, you’ll hear excerpts of the following selections: 

Gina Sobel 4tet: Beans, No Cheese

Gina Sobel and Mike Sobel: Groove Merchant

David Grisman Sextet: The Purple Grotto

Choose Your Own Adventure: Qzak

Gold Sounds: East Colorado

Gina Sobel: Gotta Go

Minnush: Buena Semana

Bill Frisell: Somewhere

Bill Frisell: Gather Good Things

Choose Your Own Adventure: Hooloo