NBC has confirmed that guitarist Kevin Eubanks will be stepping down from his job as leader of the Tonight Show band. According to a report from Entertainment Weekly’s web site, it’s not clear when Eubanks will leave the show. On March 1, Leno returns to his late-night spot after a very awkward and at times ugly programming shuffle with Conan O’Brien. It is also not been confirmed as to who his successor will be nor whether his bandmates, nearly all notable jazz musicians themselves, will continue on the show.
The reason cited for the change is the gifted guitarist’s desire to pursue other opportunities.
Eubanks joined the show in 1992 and eventually succeeded Branford Marsalis in the leader chair. Over the course of the next 15 years, the irrepressible Eubanks went from being a well-known and respected jazz guitarist to becoming a celebrity sidekick with a hearty guffaw that at times rivaled Johnny Carson’s wingman Ed McMahon.
Born and raised in Philadelphia in a very musical family (including brothers Robin and Duane), Eubanks studied at Berklee and recorded and performed with Art Blakey and Dave Holland. Eubanks first started recording as a jazz artist with an album for the Elektra Musician label, a storied, but short-lived major label branch run by Bruce Lundvall. It was Lundvall who coined the phrase “Young Lions” for the generation of musicians emerging at that time, including Eubanks, Stanley Jordan, Bobby McFerrin and of course, the Marsalis brothers. Eubanks went on to record seven albums for GRP/MCA and four with Blue Note, with Lundvall at the helm. In recent years, Eubanks has been recording for his own InSoul label and doing occasional performances at venues and festivals when time and schedule allowed. However, his presence on the international jazz scene has diminished as his stature on national television has grown.
Here’s hoping that jazz fans will see more of Kevin Eubanks, guitarist, as the nation sees less of Kevin Eubanks, sidekick.