Kevin Eubanks was born in Philadelphia into a highly musical family, between his respected pianist and pedagogue mother, Vera, who holds a Masters Degree; 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 progressive 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 before his current signing with Mack Avenue in 2010.
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.
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.”
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.”
Speaking of his new chapter, Eubanks reasons that, “as physical and emotional human beings, we go through different phases in our 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 18 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.”
One for the soul and one for the body and they feed and nourish the One. “I’m really into nutrition. I like the idea of eating ‘right’ and feeling good because of the food I eat and feeling good because of the music I hear. It’s all the same thing. It’s just another source of nutrition.”
In this period of his musical career as a recording and touring artist, Eubanks has a desire to stay open to new possibilities again. “I want to play in a great band, which I think I have. I want to play with other musicians, too. But at the same time,” he insists, “I still have this love for what I’ve learned in Hollywood that I would love to pursue. Here’s something I’ve learned in Hollywood, ‘you never know. You just never know.’ The phone rings and, ‘Wow, really?’ A new adventure....”
The Messenger (2012) is a project that reflects not only the guitarist’s virtuosity on his instrument, but also his impressive compositional skills: writing all but two tracks. Eubanks’ intent with The Messenger is to communicate the breadth of his artistic influences. ‘‘I wanted to branch out a little bit more on this recording,’’ Eubanks states. ‘‘I didn’t want to be as concerned with the 'jazz sound’ as much; I wanted to let out a little bit more of what I’ve been musically exposed to.’’