Although he grew up in a New York Jewish family, Seth Kibel didn’t discover klezmer music until college.
“My sophomore year I was looking for an activity, something to distract me from my classes,” Kibel says. “I saw a sign on the bulletin board that read, ‘Make your bubbe and zayde proud, join a klezmer band.'”
That sparked Kibel’s interest, causing him to spend hours researching and listening to recordings of the Jewish music in the school’s music library. “I found some old 78s from the ’20s and ’30s, and 45s from the ’50s and ’60s, as well as some early recordings at a klezmer revival. I started to listen and fell in love with the music right away.”
What became a musical passion did indeed have the effect the bulletin board flyer had advertised. “Playing klezmer music was really the first overtly Jewish thing I had done since my Bar Mitzvah, so that made [my family] very happy,” Kibel says.
In the past dozen years, Kibel has become one of the area’s better-known musicians performing klezmer and jazz, originally as a woodwind instrumentalist in the group the Alexandria Kleztets. Last year, the Baltimore-based musician released a Kickstarter-supported album of original music, Seth Kibel Presents: Songs of Snark & Despair. “The album is a whole series of songs I wrote in a multitude of genres — including klezmer, but blues, jazz, rock — in the months immediately following the November 2016 election,” he says. “Doing that album was my cathartic therapy process for dealing with the election and its aftermath. I think for a lot of people listening to it has had a similar effect.”
Kibel helms a series of klezmer brunches presented by the Washington Jewish Music Festival and held at the Edlavitch DCJCC. “Originally we just did a couple a year, but as it’s been getting more popular, we’re now doing them every other month.”
The brunches, billed as “Seth Kibel & Friends,” feature a rotating roster of area musicians performing while patrons enjoy a buffet-style kosher brunch. “Me and the spinach quiche are the only constants,” Kibel quips. “I bring in different musicians for different brunches so that it’s never exactly the same.”
On Sunday, Feb. 18, Kibel will play clarinet, saxophone, and flute alongside Russian guitarist and singer Vladimir Fridman and double-bass player Bob Abbott as part of the Music Pilgrim Trio. Kibel promises “a mixture of klezmer and Yiddish favorites, as well as some Jewish jazz, and occasionally some other repertoire just for variety’s sake.
“It’s a pretty lively, cheerful music,” he adds, “so I think a nice brunch, some coffee, and klezmer is kind of a great way to kickstart your Sunday morning.”
“Seth Kibel & Friends” is Sunday, Feb. 8, at 11 a.m., in the Community Hall at the Edlavitch DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets are $16.88 for the concert only, or $33.75 for concert with brunch. Call 202-777-3247 or visit wjmf.org.
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