Guitarist Kevin Eubanks enjoying the road after 'Tonight Show'

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks once led 'The Tonight Show' band.
Guitarist Kevin Eubanks once led 'The Tonight Show' band.
Photo by Harper Public Relations
| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks has found a musical benefit to life on the road.

“There is just so much music out there if you just take away the borders,” he says.

He says playing with performers such as Vince Gill, Clint Black and Jerry Douglas during his years on “The Tonight Show” broadened his musical thinking. But, he adds, his current touring is opening him to “a new generation of players” from Russia to Brazil.

He will bring a taste of what those experiences have meant March 29 to Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side.

It is a show that will see him in a drum-less trio with saxophonist Bill Pierce and bassist Rene Camacho. Eubanks, 56, says the music he is playing these days is rooted in the jazz he has been presenting since he emerged as one of the “Young Lions” of the genre in the mid-'80s. His music always has been rooted in mainstream jazz guitar, but it has had fresh, post-modern touches, too.

Now, he says, it's also greatly blues-oriented, having been shaped by some of the performers on “The Tonight Show.”

“Blues brings you closer to the groove,” he says. “It gets you down to the essence of things and gets you closer to the people.”

Eubanks, born in Philadelphia, attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he met saxophonist Branford Marsalis. That friendship led to many musical connections early in their careers and, eventually, took the guitarist to “The Tonight Show” band, which Marsalis was leading.

Eubanks became the leader of that orchestra in 1995 and led it until 2010, when he decided it was time to take his career back to the touring circuit.

“One life sort of precludes the other,” he says about working five nights a week on TV, as opposed to being on the road. ”But Jay (Leno) and I have stayed close, and we're always talking about things that are happening.”

But now he is enjoying traveling, working frequently with his brother, trombonist Robin, and bassist Dave Holland.

The time on TV had its strong side, too, he says.

“I'm glad to be out (on the road),” he says, “but I learned so much during that time it has really helped me understand the business, marketing and publicity.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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