Eubanks, Kevin

views updated May 17 2018

Kevin Eubanks

Bandleader, guitarist

For the Record

Selected discography

Selected writings


Kevin Eubanks, seasoned and respected jazz musician, stepped into the limelight as bandleader on NBCs The Tonight Show in 1995. Previous to his work on the long-running and successful late-night television show, Eubanks released several solo albums and worked with jazz musicians from Sam Rivers to Dave Holland. Aside from his time with The Tonight Show, Eubanks continues to pursue other interests, playing gigs regularly as a solo performer. Eubanks has also played alongside such acts as k. d. lang and Garth Brooks on The Tonight Show.

The foundation was laid for Eubankss career during his childhood, growing up in a musical household in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother, Vera Eubanks, was a music teacher. His uncle was jazz pianist Ray Bryant. Kevin recalls, Ray lived in New York, but when he came to Philly to play the Showboat [jazz club], hed come over and rehearse. So musicians were coming in and out all the time because our house was the place in Philly where there was a piano where they could rehearse, he told Down Beat. All three of his brothersRobin, Duane, and Shanealso grew up to become musicians.

Eubanks started studying the violin when he was seven years old. He also began learning the piano and the trumpet at an early age. When he was 12 he attended a James Brown concert and resolved to learn to play the guitar. His parents protested, so he obtained a guitar on his own and taught himself to play. By the age of 13, he was playing in Philadelphia jazz clubs.

In 1976, Eubanks enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He became friends with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Some of Eubankss more traditional instructors found his method of playing the guitar without a pick unusual. Eubanks told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The best part of the experience was meeting fellow musicians at the school, and from there getting to know everyone playing the Boston music scene.

Eubanks was influenced by many of the popular musicians of the time. I liked all the usual suspects, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Earth, Wind & Fire. If it was something they were playing on the radio at [the] time, theres a good chance I was into it.

During the 1980s, Eubanks worked with many jazz greats, including Slide Hampton and Roy Haynes, Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers, Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, and Gary Thomas. He also toured with Marsalis. Eubanks recorded Opening Nights, featuring Marsalis and Buster Williams, and Face to Face with Dave Grusin and Ron Carter. In 1983, he began bandleading on his own. He developed a strong reputation as a jazz guitarist with several albums of jazz and jazz fusion. In 1988, his album Shadow Prophets received more radio

For the Record

Born on November 15, 1957, in Philadelphia, PA; son of William (a corporate security manager) and Vera Eubanks (a music teacher). Education: Attended Berklee College of Music, 1976-79.

Began playing violin at age seven, then added piano and trumpet; started playing guitar in jazz clubs, age 13; took private lessons from Ted Dunbar; joined Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers Big Band for European tour, 1979; played jazz clubs in New York, worked with Slide Hampton and Roy Haynes, 1980s; played with Sam Rivers, 1982; toured England with Mike Gibbs band, began leading own groups, released his first recording, 1983; began playing for new house band on The Tonight Show under direction of Branford Marsalis, 1992; The Tonight Show bandleader, 1995-.

Addresses: BusinessThe Tonight Show, 3000 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank, CA 91523, (818) 840-4444.

airplay than any other jazz recording that year. From 1989 to 1992, he toured with a small band that included his brother, Robin, as well as Dave Holland and Marvin Smitty Smith.

In 1992, Marsalis was chosen as the bandleader on The Tonight Show when Jay Leno replaced Johnny Carson. Marsalis asked Eubanks to join him in the band. Eubanks considered it an easy job compared with living on the road for 15 years. A few years later, in 1995, Marsalis left to spend more time with his son and work on his solo career. Leno appointed Eubanks the new bandleader. Kevins fun and has a great personality, Leno told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. When I spoke to famous musicians about whod be the best for this gig, his name always came up. I like Kevin. Hes naturally somewhat shy, but I can play off that. Eubankss ability to play many different types of music gave him the flexibility needed to lead The Tonight Show band. His natural reserve made him an easy target for Leno to tease on camera. Eubanks placed his own stamp on the show, playing a variety of music but retaining jazz as the foundation. He also wrote the shows closing theme, entitled Kevins Country.

Eubankss Tonight Show role allows him to play all types of music by giving him the chance to play with a diverse set of musicians. I learn a whole lot, he told the Tennessean. I love playing with Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, k.d. lang, Vince Gill. After a while you build up relationships with these people and you get to hang out with them. I got to hang out with Willie Nelson on his bus, he said. I hope next time Buddy Guy is on I get to play with him. One of the challenges of leading The Tonight Show band is matching the music to the program, providing the right music for both the comedies and the interviews and pulling it all together to fit the format. At the same time, the band must seem not like a distinct entity, but as part of the show. To see the band as separate from the show would be a mistake, Eubanks told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Part of our job is to glue the show together.

In order to assert his independence and play separately from The Tonight Show, Eubanks has played gigs on weekends at clubs around the country. In 2000, he began playing regularly on weekends at the Lounge at the Beach, next door to the Comedy & Magic Club where Leno performs. In a phone interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Eubanks said, I enjoy playing with different people, leading my own band, and all the daily surprises and meeting of different people that come with working on The Tonight Show, but its still great to spend some time each year getting out before live audiences and playing music thats entirely my own. Eubanks also co-wrote the 1995 how-to book, Kevin Eubanks: Creative Guitarist, which comes with a CD and offers technical pointers as well as a demonstration of the process he uses to adapt and create music in his own personal style.

Throughout the years, Eubanks has taken care of his body and has been featured in magazines for his fitness routines. He generally describes himself as a vegetarian but admitted on The Tonight Show that he does enjoy seafood. In July of 2000, he was featured in People magazine as one of the 100 Most Eligible Bachelors.

Still, all of this isnt enough to keep Eubanks busy. The overachiever has also composed music for movies and documentaries, including Rebound, directed by Eriq La Salle from the television series E.R., and the five-part Public Broadcasting System (PBS) documentary Black Westerners that followed the stories of African American leaders and heroes who lived in the West. He has also made television guest appearances on V.l.P. and Muppets Tonight! He spends time volunteering with the Childrens Hospital Teen Impact Program in Los Angeles, a program that provides support for teens undergoing cancer treatment.

Selected discography


Kevin Eubanks: Guitarist, Elektra/Musician, 1983.

Sundance, GRP, 1984.

Face to Face, GRP, 1986.

The Heat of Heat, GRP, 1987.

The Searcher, GRP, 1988.

Promise of Tomorrow, GRP, 1989.

(With the Holland Quartet) Extensions, ECM, 1991.

(With Robin Eubanks) Karma, JMT, 1991.

Turning Point, Blue Note, 1992.

Spiritalk, Blue Note, 1993.

Spiritalk 2: Revelations, Blue Note, 1995.

The Best of Kevin Eubanks, GRP, 1996.

Live at Bradleys, Blue Note, 1996.

Film scores; as composer

Psalms from the Underground, 1996.

Rebound: The Legend of Earl The Goat Manigault (television), 1996.

The Dinner, 1997.

The Week That Girl Died, 1998.

Selected writings

(With John Amaral) Kevin Eubanks: Creative Guitarist, Hal Leonard, 1995.



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 15, Gale Research, 1997.


Down Beat, November 1995, p. 26.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 11, 2000.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 5, 1995, p. 10E.

Tennesean, July 31, 1998, p. 19W.


Kevin Eubanks, Internet Movie Database,,+Kevin (November 27, 2001).

Kevin Eubanks,, (November 27, 2001).

Sarah Parkin

Eubanks, Kevin 1957–

views updated May 11 2018

Kevin Eubanks 1957


At a Glance

Selected works


Image not available for copyright reasons

Though Kevin Eubanks became a familiar name to millions of Americans when he became the Tonight Show bandleader in 1995, his reputation as a jazz guitarist had been well-established for over a decade. A teen prodigy from a musically gifted family-like his close friend Bran-, ford Marsalis-Eubanks had re-I leased several acclaimed albums of jazz and jazz fusion in the \ 1980s. His ability to move effortlessly in and out of musical genres gave him the flexibility necessary to lead the Tonight Show band through their diverse riffs, while his naturally reserved demeanor made him the perfect target for host Jay Lenos on-camera banter.

Eubanks was born in 1957, the second of four boys in the household of William and Vera Eubanks. All four would grow up to become musicians, perhaps unduly influenced by their mother, a music teacher. Additionally, jazz pianist Ray Bryant was the boys uncle. Bryant who lived in New York City would come to the Eubanks house to rehearse with his friends when he had gigs in town since the family owned a piano. However, the family lived in a somewhat rough area of Philadelphia, and Eubanks grew into a self-professed loner, especially after he began playing the guitar around the age of ten. People thought I was weird, he told People magazine about his adolescence. They left me alone. When he ventured into aberrant behavior, his parents would punish him by taking his guitar away.

Eubanks displayed an early virtuosity. By the age of 13 he was playing in Philadelphia jazz clubs, and in 1976 enrolled at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he first met Branford Marsalis, one of two talented New Orleans-born brothers. At Berklee, he came under fire from his more traditional-minded instructors since he taught himself to play without using a guitar pick, a rather unusual method. Around 1980, Eubanks-by then playing jazz fusion around Boston-auditioned for and won a spot with Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers, a traditional jazz outfit. With the famed ensemble he toured Europe and began to establish a name for himself; after returning to the States he moved to New York City. Over the next few years Eubanks played steady gigs in jazz clubs around Manhattan, earning good money and honing his skills and a personal style. The latter feat, he once told Guitar Players Bill Milkows-ki, is the hardest thing to do. He likened creating ones

At a Glance

Born 1957, in Philadelphia, PA; sonof William (acorporate security mgr.) and Vera (a music teacher) Eubanks. Education: Attended BerkleeColl. of Music, c 1976-79.

Career: Played in Boston-area fusion band; joined Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers, c 1980; signed with Elektra/Musician, 1981; released first LP, Kevin Eubanks: Guitarist, in 1982; signed with GRP Records, 1984; released Sundance and several other LPs; recorded Extensions w/the Holland Quartet for ECM Records, 1991; signed w/Blue Note Records; released Turning Point, 1992; joined the Tonight Show band as guitarist, 1992; took over Branford Marsaliss bandleader spot, January 1995.

distinct sonic style to chasing your own tail. You finally catch it, and then you realize it was attached to your butt the whole time.

After several dalliances with famed modern jazz artists such as Slide Hampton, Sam Rivers, and Ronnie Mathews, in 1983 Eubanks released his recording debut on Elektra/Musician, Kevin Eubanks: Guitarist. Milkows-ki, writing in Down Beat, called it an auspicious first recording, describing it as representative of the many styles the young Eubanks had already conquered as a jazz artist. The guitarist told Milkowski that Sam Rivers had been the most impressive influence. One time, sitting in a restaurant in Munich, he told me: Just take the chains off your mind. Nothing you play is wrong. Dont worry about making any sense of what youre playing.

Over the next few years Eubanks recorded a number of other records, many of them showcasing this freer style, after signing with the GRP label. These included Face to Face, released in 1986, and the following years The Heat of Heat, an effort produced by George Benson. Down Beat lauded the latter for the blazing display of virtuosity from Eubanks, and it solidified his reputation as a jazz/fusion artist, a style that blended elements of rock into traditional jazz note structure but had served to split the term jazz into two camps: fusion aficionados and more traditional-minded purists. While these albums ultimately established Eubanks as a recording artist who could sell in the 150,000-album range, they also branded him a strictly commercial artist in the eyes of many of his peers, wrote Down Beats Zan Stewart. By the early 1990s Eubanks was exploring new frontiers, symbolized by a move to the Pennsylvania countryside. Moving out of New York has helped me to feel a lot better about the acoustic guitar, he told Milkowski in Guitar Player. Out here Im around hills and trees. Its allowed me to let more space in.

He continued to play his custom-made guitars, both acoustic and electric, without picks, and kept writing and performing with fellow musicians like his friend Dave Hollands Holland Quartet, with whom he recorded the 1991 LP Extensions; he also appeared on older brother Robins 1991 Karma album. The following year, Eubankss new label, Blue Note, released his pivotal Turning Point, which evidenced some new twists to his style.

In 1992, old pal Branford Marsalis offered Eubanks a job that would change his life. Marsalis had been hired as the new bandleader for the NBC late-night staple the Tonight Show when Jay Leno took over as host as part of its revamping, and Marsalis offered Eubanks a permanent slot as the guitarist for the new house band. Eubanks accepted without reservation. I had been on the road pretty much since I was 19, and I was like 34, he told Down Beats Stewart. The curiosity and the financial thing got the better of me. Marsalis was also responsible for providing another significant opportunity for Eubanks: he introduced Eubanks to Tammy Townshend, a television actress, and the two became a pair. Even Leno teased Eubanks on the air about his relationship with the daytime soap-opera star occasionally during 1994, and late in the year-after the couple had a falling-out when the bodybuilding fanatic/guitarist suggested that Townshend might lift weights to tone her legs-Leno embarrassed them by bringing Townshend on the show so the two could mend their quarrel. Eubanks, with a somewhat shy and reserved personality, was mortified.

Despite the demands of the Tonight Show, Eubanks continued his recording career. He released two Spirit Talk solo LPs, and with John Amaral co-wrote the 1995 how-to book, Kevin Eubanks: Creative Guitarist. The work, aimed at musically adept fans, came with a CD and offered technical pointers as well as a demonstration of the process through which Eubanks adapts notes and melodic constructions into his personal artistic style. Marsalis first broached the idea of Eubanks taking over as bandleader for the Tonight Show in 1994. Marsalis felt constrained and wanted to pursue other projects; the two discussed it for months before the announcement was made. Eubanks made his debut as bandleader in early 1995. With his new and highly visible slot on the show came an added requirement: serving as Lenos comic foil. I think its flowing because Kevin is shyer than Branford, so now you have whats good in any comedy team: one loud person [Leno] and one reserved person, Leno told Down Beats Stewart. With Bran-ford, it was two loud guys. Plus, Kevins a great musician. He fits right in.

Eubankss new job as Tonight Show bandleader offered new challenges to the seasoned jazz artist. To introduce guests and frame the commercial breaks, the band-which includes Eubankss friends, the bass player Bob Hurst, Marvin Smitty Smith on drums, and saxophonist Ralph Moore-bursts into accessible melodies drawn from all musical genres. The goal is to stir the house audience. If they get excited about the music theyre hearing during the commercials, when we come back [on the air], they have all this energy built up thats ready to release, Eubanks told Stewart in Down Beat. That creates energy for the show, and that way the people at home feel it more. Eubanks did confess to People magazine about having a case of the jitters before his debut. Tammy told me to just go on, be myself, and then everything would be fine, Eubanks told the magazine . I just told him that stuff so I could get some sleep, Townshend rejoined. He moved to Los Angeles when he initially took the Tonight Show job, but on the occasional show hiatus Eubanks travels back to New York City to play improv-jazz gigs with musician friends at clubs like Visiones in Greenwich Village. On Sundays in Los Angeles he plays at the Jazz Bakery.

Selected works


Kevin Eubanks: Guitarist, Elektra/Musician, 1983.

Sundance, GRP, 1984.

Face to Face, GRP, 1986.

The Heat of Heat, GRP, 1987.

The Searcher, GRP

Promise of Tomorrow, GRP, 1990.

(With the Holland Quartet) Extensions, ECM, 1991.

(With brother Robin) Karma, JMT, 1991.

Turning Point, Blue Note, 1992.

Spirit Talk, Blue Note, 1993.

Spirit Talk 2: Revelations, Blue Note, 1995.


(With John Amarai) Kevin Eubanks: Creative Guitarist, Hal Leonard, 1995.


Down Beat, July 1983, p. 48; November 1995, p.26.

Essence, January 1988, p. 27.

Guitar Player, August 1992, p. 23; June 1995, p. 141.

People, May 1, 1995, p. 99.

Carol Brennan