Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM
People often asked Kevin Eubanks during his 15 years leading the band on NBC every night, “What would you like to do when you leave The Tonight Show?” And he would answer, “I’m going to get to finish a tune.”
His answer implies that he needs a few minutes. But he means more than that.
“When you get out on the road, you realize it takes a long time to finish a song,” Eubanks says. “The song keeps morphing and turning into this, that and the other. It takes a long time to wear a song out, [until eventually] it takes more energy to play it than it gives. And then the song is done. It’s time for some new music.”
It’s easy to get the sense that Eubanks is still in the heavy morphing-and-turning stage with the four tunes in this set.
By Labor Day, the weather had already taken a big bite out of the Detroit Jazz Festival. Friday had been stiflingly hot. Saturday night, storms blew in. Two micro-bursts in a row wiped out all the outdoor programming. By Monday, it was jacket-and-hat weather, which seemed to inspire Eubanks’ preaching. Between soul-stirring guitar phrases, he says, “It’s times like this I wish I could sing.” The audience begs. “No no no…” But he says in a talking-blues way that despite the setbacks in the Motor City, and we hope they are temporary, the Detroit Jazz Festival is where we want to be.
Eubanks and Bill Pierce on sax were both members of Art Blakey‘s long-running Jazz Messengers, a hugely important band in jazz history. Now Pierce chairs the Woodwind Department at Berklee College. Drummer Marvin Smitty Smith and Eubanks were in the Tonight Show band together from 1992 to 2010. It’s Smitty who brought Los Angeles bassist Rene Camacho to this group.
After a run of JazzSet tributes, new works, string sections, orchestras and jazz/world blends, this set speaks to a different part of the heart. It says, “Bring a cushion and sit on a concrete bench, wrap up in a blanket — you’ll be fine.” It opens with a riff that morphs and turns into “Resolution” from John Coltrane‘s A Love Supreme. The guitar soars, the sax man blows into the wind, the bass and drummer dance. People are smiling, and it’s good to be here.
Kevin Eubanks interview by WBGO’s Gary Walker. Thanks to Terri Pontremoli, Chris Harrington and the 2011 DJF team. Dee Dee Bridgewater records at KUNV in Las Vegas, studio engineer Ginger Bruner. Location recording by Timothy Powell, Surround Sound mix by JazzSet‘s Duke Markos.