Kevin Eubanks is a gifted musician and prolific composer whose own band, the Kevin Eubanks Quartet, has been evolving for close to twenty years. Kevin is also well known as the Music Director of The Tonight Show Band, appearing on the show 18 years (1992-2010). In both situations, Kevin has won over audiences with a laid back style and an affability that seems to belie the concentration and focus that have made him both a household word for TV viewers and a consummate guitarist.
Kevin was born into a musical household in Philadelphia, PA. His mother, Vera Eubanks, is a gospel and classical pianist and organist with a Masters Degree in music education. She has taught both privately and in the school system, until her recent retirement. Vera’s brother, Ray Bryant, is a journeyman jazz pianist who has recorded and toured with jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Sarah Vaughn not to mention a few hit records of his own. Kevin was thus exposed to world-class music in his formative years, when he began to play the violin. Along with his older brother Robin, an accomplished trombonist and also a professional musician, Kevin played in small groups around his hometown and spent countless hours practicing at home. Kevin studied the trumpet before making his commitment to the guitar, which was solidified with his entrance to the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he met many of the finest jazz musicians of his generation.
When Kevin moved to New York after attending Berklee College of Music, his career kicked off in earnest. He played with some of the stalwarts of jazz, like Ron Carter, Slide Hampton, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, and Roy Haynes. In addition to working in other bands, Kevin became the leader of his own quartet and traveled to Jordan, Pakistan, and India on a tour sponsored by the US State Department not to mention the European/ Japanese jazz circuit which so many jazz artists frequent. Kevin taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada, at Rutgers University, and at the Charlie Parker School in Perugia, Italy. His first album as a leader, Guitarist, was released on the Elektra label when Kevin was 25. It documented a sophisticated, nuanced voice on the instrument, and was graced by the presence of some peers who still work with him today: tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, a member of The Tonight Show Band, and Robin. Kevin’s cousins, the late bassist David Eubanks and the pianist Charles, also appeared on the album, which was so well received that it led to a seven album contract with the GRP label. Those albums, based largely upon Kevin’s compositions, gained him a wide audience through extensive radio airplay and showed the range of his skill on both acoustic and electric guitar. Kevin became a full-time bandleader, and traveled the world with his group.
In 1992 Kevin moved to the West Coast to assume the guitar spot in The Tonight Show Band. In 1995 the leader’s torch was passed to Eubanks, whose versatility enabled him to write and choose music that satisfied the huge and varied audience for the show. He assumed the role as Leno’s sidekick, sometimes participating in skits, and his engaging personality as well as his musicianship drew attention. The position afforded Kevin the opportunity to work with fine musicians from all genres. As a result of living close to LA, Kevin has become involved in writing scores for both TV movies and full-length independent feature films. He loves to do volunteer work for charities and maintains an active relationship with the organization dearest to his heart, The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. He has appeared on various TV shows from Hollywood Squares to VIP to Girlfriends, Days of Our Lives to name a few. But his passion is clearly seen when he is on stage performing.
Kevin and his touring band, which features Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Bill Pierce, who holds the Woodwind chair at Berklee College of Music, continue to travel the country on tour. “It’s wonderful to feel the music surging through you and touching people from the inside out. That’s what happens when everyone is open and the music takes hold. What an honor it is to be invited into so many peoples lives, if only for a brief melodious moment.”
Kevin has recorded several CD’s that feature various distinguished artists, and plans to release them on a new label called “INSOUL MUSIC.” He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Berklee College of Music. In March, 2010, Kevin was named the Artistic Diretor of the Jazz In The Classroom Program for The Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, where he works with young up-and-coming middle and high school musicians in the Los Angeles public schools. “Young people need to be able to express themselves in ways that educate, uplift, and inspire self confidence,” Eubanks remarked. “It’s important that everyone in the neighborhood gets to see that.”
As one of the most accomplished guitarists of his or any generation, Eubanks has deservedly become known to millions through music, TV, and what so many artists know so well, “lots of hard work.”