I can honestly say I had never heard of “klezmer” music before coming across woodwind instrumentalist Seth Kibel. Kibel plays jazz, swing, klezmer, and blues, among other genres.
“In all honesty, I didn’t really hear much of this music growing up in suburban New York,” Kibel quips of the Eastern-European Jewish folk music. “It wasn’t until I was in my sophomore year at college, when I was starting to get a little bored with my classes and saw a sign posted on a bulletin board: ‘Make your bubbe and zayde proud! Join a klezmer band!’ I was intrigued. Like I said, I really didn’t know much about klezmer, but I must’ve heard the word in passing because I knew it was a type of Jewish music. But that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge.”
So Kibel hit the stacks of music at the library and emerged with 78s recorded back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. He found early klezmer revival tracks from the ‘70s and ‘80s, too. Thus began his journey.
“I instantly fell in love with it,” he says. “Some of the things that attracted me to this music was the energy, the excitement, the freshness of what I was listening to—even though much of it was over half a century old.”
Kibel has made himself a serious student of klezmer and cofounded one of the leading revival bands of the 1990s: Cayuga Klezmer Revival. The music most notably was heard at weddings and other celebrations in the Old Country a century ago. However, when over two and a half million Jews, including all four of Kibel’s grandparents, came across the pond years ago the music’s pathway took a turn. Folks came to settle primarily in New York metropolitan at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Thus Old World sounds began to mix with new, a la early jazz, Dixieland, Tin Pan Alley and the like. “The result is a quintessentially American form of music, reflective of the American immigrant ‘melting pot’ experience,” Kibel tells.
Kibel plays tenor sax, clarinet and flute, and will switch freely between them at Juggling Gypsy this weekend. He also is touring as a quartet. Pianist Sean Lane will play keyboard, Bob Abbott will be on upright bass, and Wes Crawford will take over drums and percussion.
“This instrumentation allows us to have a pretty diverse range of repertoire and musical textures,” Kibel explains. “There’s only four of us, but the other fellers are such virtuosi on their instruments, so it often feels like a lot more!”
While Kibel’s latest album, “Songs of Snark and Despair,” carries a pretty clear theme of having fun with the current political climate and White House administration, the artist assures his tour through North Carolina will be strictly non-political. “Songs of Snark & Despair” was a side project—“a darkly comedic take on the political events of 2016 and 2017 from a decidedly liberal viewpoint.” (They can be heard at www.sethkibel.com or on Facebook.) Kibel and his band will focus more on klezmer, American jazz, swing and improvisation in their upcoming show. Kibel’s set includes traditional klezmer melodies—with a few dating back at least a century or two—many anonymously penned by who knows whom. Kibel and company also will play newer compositions he wrote himself, which combine klezmer with jazz influences.
“My song ‘New Waltz’ was actually the Grand Prize winner of the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest sponsored by the Songwriter’s Association of Washington (SAW),” he details. Slow and gradual beats, and heavy with Kibel’s clarinet, “New Waltz” is an all-instrumental track off of 2015’s “No Words.’”
“In some of our arrangements, and especially in our original music, a lot of the lines between the genres start to blur,” Kibel details. “Hopefully, the music that comes out is a good representation of the varied experiences I’ve had thus far in my career, whether it’s researching traditional klezmer, touring Europe playing the blues, or musically mining the treasure trove that is the Great American Songbook (Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, etc.). I like to think everyone who attends one of our shows hears something they recognize but also hears music that’s completely new to them, as well.”
Kibel and company are scheduled to head back into the recording studio in late June. They hope to have a new release by late 2018 or early 2019. Kibel encourages readers to follow their progress online and at any of his social media handles.
“One of the nice things about having a slightly unusual name is that it’s very easy for people to track me down online,” he quips.