Album Serves as His Label Debut and
For nearly two decades, the world at large knew precisely where to find the acclaimed guitarist Kevin Eubanks. For five nights a week, Eubanks was cranking up the band and issuing steamy solos as music director on NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” In spring of 2010, after 18 years on the job, Eubanks decided to move on, although retirement was the last thing on his mind. That much is clearly stated in potent musical terms on Zen Food, his first recording for the Mack Avenue label.
Zen Food is a statement of purpose for a guitarist who, in the 15 years before landing his coveted gig in Burbank, built a reputation as one of the more adventurous and anti-ism guitarists. In fact, Eubanks has been tending his personal musical muse for years, working on material and honing his band in Los Angeles–“after work” at the famed Baked Potato.
In his band, Eubanks has a powerful rhythm section ally in drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, who, like Eubanks, was a commanding presence on the music scene before heading west to the “Tonight Show” bandstand. Completing the ranks of this bold unit, which deftly combines “fusion” in the best sense with other stylistic turns, are saxophonist Bill Pierce, who holds the Woodwind Chair at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, keyboardist Gerry Etkins and bassist Rene Camacho. Zen Food evokes a sense of diversity and also collective continuity, qualities long in the making, and now ready to “hit the road” in a global way.
This “new” chapter in Eubanks’ life is, as he says, “not so foreign, because that’s all I used to do. It’s just at a different level. Musically, I’m at a different level, as well as personally. Everything is in a progressive state, with more experience in a lot of areas. It should be an interesting adventure.”
As for his long stint as musical foil for Jay Leno, Eubanks asserts, “I enjoyed the job. I enjoyed learning all these new things and meeting new people, and just seeing another side of what I didn’t know. Where I cut my teeth, I was never privy to what happens in Hollywood, by and large. I heard about it and knew a few people here and there. So, to get a bird’s eye view of all that was fascinating, and it still is.”
As he is quick to clarify, with a laugh, “I can’t very well say, oh, I’ll just go back to what I did. I’m a product of both things now, and happily so. I embrace everything I’ve learned and continue to learn about the mysterious ways of Hollywood.
Eubanks was born in Philadelphia, into a highly musical family, between his respected pianist and pedagogue mother, who holds a Masters Degree, Vera, notable Jazz and Blues pianist uncle Ray Bryant, and Kevin’s accomplished brothers Robin-considered one of the greatest living trombonists-and the fine trumpeter Duane. Kevin was first drawn into music listening to the energetic sounds of fusion and prog rock. Then went on to study at Berklee. He has played with icons including McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Dave Holland and Ron Carter. In his own distinctive early career, Eubanks released many recordings for Elektra, GRP and Blue Note labels before his current signing with Mack Avenue 2010.
Kevin is resistant to typecasting. Having always listened to a variety of music, from Country to Pop, Soul and Blues to Zeppelin, it made him ideal for the nightly musical tapestry of the “Tonight Show” demands. He comments, “once you carry that mantle (as a Jazz musician), it becomes an exclusive club and I want to be inclusive. I want to include more music. More experiences. Though it seems no matter how much I want to expand as a musician and a person, labels keep me, you, us, isolated.”
“Man, I’ve just been on TV for eighteen years, playing with everybody from Willie (Nelson) to B.B.( King) to Leann Rimes, Jay Leno, Bill Cosby and Arsenio Hall. I appreciate all kinds of music. Yes, even the kind that accompanies comedians. It’s just some more music. Too bad there’s not a database where you can change your label (laughs), to simply read, “MUSICIAN.”
Speaking of his new chapter, Eubanks reasons that, “as physical and emotional human beings, we go through different phases in your life. I just think it was time for a change, for all the right reasons. It was a natural process, and I respected that. I thought, ‘ok, then do it.’ At the time that I took the job, I’d been on the road for 15 years, and I was tired of saying goodbye to everyone that I met. I thought it would be nice to be in one place for a while. I never dreamed it would turn into eighteen years. It’s kind of the same process.”
Enter Zen Food, which had already been recorded, in Eubanks’ studio, by the time he announced his departure from NBC. The title is more than a piece of wordplay for Eubanks. “I think it’s a wonderful thing to acknowledge music as being food for your soul. The whole idea of it being Zen is that it’s a state of ‘being.’ Not an ambition to become something else. It’s realizing everyone’s fingerprint is unique and expressing that uniqueness with sound, with ideas, with music.”
Upcoming Kevin Eubanks Performances:
· Friday, December 3: Borders In-Store (Hollywood)
· Sunday, December 5: El Rey Theatre, presented by KJazz 88.1 “Jingle Jazz”
(Los Angeles, CA)
· Saturday, February 12: John Lyman Center (New Haven, CT)
· Thursday, March 24 – Sunday, March 27: Blues Alley (Washington D.C.)
· Tuesday, March 29 – Saturday, April 2: Birdland (New York, NY)
· Monday, April 11 – Tuesday, April 12: Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant (Minneapolis, MN)
· Thursday, June 2: Civic Center Music Hall (Oklahoma City, OK)
· Friday, June 3: The Soiled Dove Underground (Denver, CO)
Kevin Eubanks · Zen Food
Release Date: November 22
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