Local Musician Check-in: Gina Sobel

Posted on September 10, 2014 by


Local jazz musician and Charlottesville native Gina Sobel has always been a jazz spirit at heart. By age twelve, she was playing the jazz flute in her father’s band and a number of other instruments, including the sax and guitar, came to her hands soon after. As a teenager, she began singing and finding her voice within her jazz style, settling on her natural, smokey tone to break through the genre barriers. She loves to play a variety of genres, but always keeps to her jazz roots and her love for songwriting.

Gina Sobel and the Mighty Fine recently reached their goal on a Kickstarter project in support of their first studio album and have since completed the record. They hope to release the album by the end of the year, so stay tuned and check out their upcoming shows!

Photo credit: Tristan Williams

Photo credit: Tristan Williams

Gina Sobel

When and why did you start playing music/singing? What instruments do you play?

I’ve been playing music my whole life – my dad’s a jazz guitarist so I grew up with that around the house, as well as lots of encouragement to listen and practice. I used to sit in with my dad’s trio when they would rehearse at the house and play along with the melodies of the tunes – the written part. One rehearsal they told me I could only keep playing with them if I improvised too, and that was the beginning! I’ve picked up instruments along the way – now I perform on voice, flute, sax and guitar. I’ve also been messing around on the electric bass and piano, and oh man! the bass flute – my favorite.

Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?

I had a weird mix of musical influences as a kid – a lot of jazz, classical through my flute studies and for some reason, Oldies. I don’t know what drew me to it, my parents didn’t listen to a lot of it. For anyone who grew up in the DC area, “Oldies 100” 100.3FM was my childhood jam.

There’s this great flute player (jazz and otherwise) who has always had a big influence on me – Matt Eakle. My parents often took me to see the David Grisman Quintet at the Birchmere, and Matt would talk to me for like half an hour after the show about flute stuff! That was so cool. On the pop/rock side of things I listened to a lot of Green Day (pre-American Idiot!), No Doubt, Alanis Morrisette, Dispatch, Weezer, DMB. It wasn’t until college that I got into the 60s and discovered Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Band, CCR, Zeppelin, and they all remain huge influences for me. Currently, I’m obsessed with Wilco, The Bad Plus, Ali Farka Toure, The New Mastersounds and the new Nicholas Payton album he did with Butcher Brown out of RVA, “Numbers.”

ginasobel2When did you write your first song? What was it about?

I wrote songs as a kid, but the first song I wrote as an “adult” was my freshman year at William and Mary. I had just picked up the guitar and was taking this amazing freshman seminar on the influence of music on American society in the mid 60s with Professor Amy Wooley. It was called Jack’s Song (an inside joke I no longer remember) and was about taking care of the planet. For anyone who has a copy “Fresh Tomatoes,” it’s on that!

What influences your writing?

When I first started writing, it was because I had to write, I had to get something out that I wasn’t able to just say. I still write that way sometimes, but I also try to write when I’m not having an emotional breakdown or am really pissed off or just had a huge epiphany. I try to put myself in another character’s mind, give them a situation and see what they would do – I’m attempting to write from a human perspective, not just my own.

For instrumental jazz tunes, it’s a little different. A lot of time I have a melodic idea or a chord progression, or even a funny title and I build off that. I try to make them interesting to improvise over and when put together with a band, to express something human (or otherwise!)

When did you play your first gig? What emotions and thoughts ran through your head after finishing?

I did a lot of recitals and concerts growing up, but my first show playing my own songs was my sophomore year of college. William and Mary has this student concert series called Homebrew that you audition for at the beginning of the semester. I got a slot and had some really great friends sit in with me. It was so exciting – having the chance to perform songs I had written for an audience of people I didn’t know. I filled out the set with some Dylan tunes and spent the whole night before memorizing lyrics in the kitchen of my dorm. I think I got most of them right!

Do you get pumped or nervous pre-show?

Oh man, so pumped. I love performing! Especially with the Mighty Fine and the 4tet, I’m really lucky to have such great bands!

What does a day in the life of a modern-day songwriter look like from your perspective?

The most important parts of the day (and the hardest to achieve) are long periods of time to write and practice and read/reflect/think. Other things often encroach though – booking, scheduling, planning, advertising. It’s hard to balance – it can be so hard to make the time for the actual creative process. I’m still working on that balance.

What do you want people to take from hearing your music? As a fan, what do you also want people to take from experiencing your live show?

On one hand, a lot of the lyrics ask people to be reflective. On the other, it’s about having fun and feeling awesome – that’s how we feel on stage. So, a multi-layered approach, I guess.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and The Mighty Fine?

We (the Mighty Fine) just had a successful Kickstarter and finished tracking our record at Minimum Wage Recording in Richmond. We’ve got to mix it still (this weekend!) and then do all the mastering/art/printing stuff, but we want that to be out by the end of the year. We’ve also got the first inklings of a winter tour in the works, so stay tuned!

Our next local gig is at Keswick Vineyards 9/26 from 5-8 for their Sunset Concert Series. I also have a jazz quartet (the Sobel 4tet) that has a weekly gig at Tempo every Wednesday from 9-midnight. We play a lot of original music and have a good time.ginasobel