Just back from touring summertime Europe with the Mingus Big Band, Robin Eubanks has driven in from his home in northern New Jersey to meet for his first Before & After. We’re in a studio at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and for a man whose schedule book is full to the margins, he appears grounded and well-rested. His is a workable balance of road gigs (the Detroit Jazz Festival in September, a month-long residency in San Francisco with the SF Collective in October, followed by another three-week European jaunt), recording projects, and his mainstay: teaching and guiding young players at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he’s been teaching jazz trombone and composition for more than 20 years. In 2017, he added a position at the San Francisco Conservatory to his CV.
When Eubanks talks about the trombone, it’s more like he’s describing a community than an instrument. Under a calm, soft-spoken exterior lies an intense feeling of connection with other trombonists. He’s visibly disappointed when he misses identifying certain players; admittedly there were some curveballs in the playlist he faced. His responses are as much about his history as about the music he hears, revealing a deep range of musical experiences: growing up in the musical Eubanks family (with his brothers, guitarist Kevin and trumpeter Duane, and his uncle, pianist Ray Bryant) and the fertile Philadelphia music scene of the 1970s; moving to New York in ’80 and falling in with free players and more traditional jazz groups, uptown and down; becoming part of Brooklyn’s groundbreaking M-Base collective.