Q&A: Marc Ribot On His Headlining Run At The Village Vanguard, Heading Into Unfamiliar Scenes, And Coming To New York In The '70s
While working in organist Jack McDuff's band in 1979, guitarist Marc Ribot learned not to "hit the obvious note," a guideline he's followed ever since. As a sideman, he's strummed for the likes of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, the Lounge Lizards, and John Zorn; on his own, he moves from solo guitar to film scores to Cuban music to punk-jazz, not to mention tributes to Albert Ayler and John Cage. Tuesday through Sunday, the six-stringer surprises yet again by bringing an adventurous trio into New York jazz temple the Village Vanguard, a venue better known for swing than skronk. Featuring drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Henry Grimes, the latter of whom last played at the Vanguard in 1966, the Marc Ribot Trio is partial to noise and aggressionor, as Ribot puts it, music that "punches you in the face."
You always have such great band names: Shrek, Los Cubanos Postizos, Ceramic Dog. Is the Marc Ribot Trio a more personal project?
This band is a real collaboration. It's based on improvisation and whatever comes up in the improvisation, which, given the players involved, can be a whole lot of material. Sometimes we find ourselves playing standards or a blues piece. I started out playing with Henry and Chad in Spiritual Unity, which was dedicated to the music of Albert Ayler. So that may come up too.
And you're also playing pieces from John Coltrane's Sun Ship album.
I got quite into some of the late Coltrane materials. So that's in there. That's possible. Very possible.
Now, this is your first time leading a band at the Vanguard?
Yes it is. I played there only once, really. [I did] a week's run with Allen Toussaint. It's a great place and I'm excited to have the opportunity.
Is playing at the Vanguard a milestone for you?
You know, it's funny. The possibility of playing there came up when I did the Allen Toussaint gig. To tell you the truth, I never really viewed it as a possibility, and even after I was invited, I thought, well, do I have a project that belongs there? Which was not slighting me or it. I respect what I do and I greatly respect both the history and the present of the Vanguard. In fact, when I first came to New York, I used to sit on the steps of the Vanguard, listening to, like, Jim Hall or whoever was playing there until I'd get kicked out. [It was a] cheapo way to kinda sit on the steps upstairs and catch some of the set. [laughs] Before somebody came and chased me away. So in that sense, you might say I have a long relationship with the place. I always figured that I was a jazz musician in the same sense that Cindy Sherman was a fashion model. So I wasn't sure if I was right for the Vanguard.
But then, this past fall, I did this tour with Henry and Chad... My music has had a close relation with jazz for a very long time. For example, the music of Albert Ayler, which was considered jazz by some critics at the time and was not considered jazz by other critics at the time. One of the things that interested me in Ayler was translating it to the guitar. And so at times, we sounded more like some kind of punk band than what was recognized by most people as jazz. So I wasn't sure whether it would be a good fit. But I did a tour this last fall, with Henry and Chad, and I started thinking, "You know, maybe we do have something to say within the tradition." And so that's why we're here. It's a funny thing to think, you know, after practicing for forty-five years. [laughs] Some people are just late bloomers.
You say you never even considered it a possibility. Why is that?
I thought that what we were doing was related to jazz, but I wasn't sure if it was jazz. I never thought I'd be invited, first of all. I thought we were kind of outside the parameters of what the Vanguard was doing.