Kurt Ribak (pronounced REE-bok, like the shoes) showed a penchant for finding rhythm and music where he could. When Kurt was about four years old his mother found him dancing to the sound of the dishwasher.
Kurt’s parents were not players but lovers of music. Ancestors include a female leader of an all-male band (“Stella and her Fellas”) and Simon Rodia, the creator of the Watts Towers, a major work of folk art.
More conventional early musical experiences included playing ‘cello and singing in the San Francisco Boys Chorus, which performed with the San Francisco Symphony and Opera.
A Berkeley, CA native, Kurt attended UC Berkeley, where he continued playing classical music and played in the UC Jazz Ensembles. Kurt met pianist Greg Sankovich there and reconnected with his fellow San Francisco Boys Chorus alumnus, saxophonist Lincoln Adler. Kurt continues to play with Greg and Lincoln.
After a battle with tendinitis, Kurt won scholarships to Berklee College of Music. He graduated with top honors after practicing obsessively. He also spent many hours transcribing and absorbing the styles of bassists Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, and Charles Mingus and dissecting the compositions and arrangements of Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti and R&B giant James Brown.
At Berklee College of Music Kurt learned he loved composition and songwriting. His early tunes reflect a strong Thelonious Monk influence, while others reflect his love of the great bassist/composer/bandleader Charles Mingus, whose music he studied intensively at Berklee. Later tunes bring to mind Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, and the South African composer Abdullah Ibrahim.
Kurt says what he’s trying for in his music is “Charles Mingus meets The Meters. They go to Duke Ellington’s house to jam, and every so often Cachao and Thelonious Monk sit in.”
Kurt leads the Kurt Ribak Trio and has worked as a musician in settings ranging from circuses to sharing the stage with preachers and fire-breathing strippers. (Kurt notes these were different events.) Kurt has performed in venues ranging from Yoshi's to a club where someone stashed a loaded .45 in his bass bag. Kurt no longer plays there.
In June 2012 Kurt was in an auto accident, seriously injuring his left hand and forearm. Nine operations and over a year later he is still recovering but has resumed playing between surgeries. He notes, “It’s a tough way to find out, but when I was hurt I learned how many people loved me, cared about me. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a community to heal someone.”
The Kurt Ribak Trio has three CDs out, all of which enjoy airplay on KCSM-FM and other jazz stations. He has led his group at venues throughout the greater Bay Area and beyond, including sold-out appearances at Yoshi’s. Kurt’s fourth CD is scheduled for release in May of 2015 and a CD release party is scheduled for Yoshi’s in Oakland May 26, 2015.
Home Base: San Francisco