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Kevin Eubanks: After The Tonight Show

A major voice in jazz and fusion guitar reclaims his role

Photo of Kevin Eubanks Tonight Show bandleader
Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks at Birdland
Kevin Eubanks at Birdland in late 2016 (photo by Alan Nahigian)

Located just outside Times Square in Manhattan, Birdland draws its fair share of curious tourists on any given night. That allure was amplified in mid-April, when the club hosted guitarist and singer Kevin Eubanks for four nights—the rare name familiar even to the least jazz-educated of Big Apple sightseers.

Those coming in just to catch a glimpse of the man who was Jay Leno’s jocular sidekick on The Tonight Show for 18 years may have been taken aback by the Eubanks who took the stage that week. Accompanied by three of the most distinctive voices in modern jazz—trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts—Eubanks proceeded to dive deeply into a relentless current of sound, with bold melodic statements suddenly bursting forth from hard-edged funk- and fusion-flavored excursions. There was no banter, no inviting standards or concessions to his celebrity—nothing, in short, to please a crowd, except for a ceaseless hour of exhilarating music.

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