As bandleader of "The Tonight Show" and sidekick to Jay Leno, Kevin Eubanks was one of the most recognizable jazz players on the planet. Today he's just another working musician: Eubanks recently emerged from his long, television-imposed hiatus to once again tour and record as he did decades ago, before he took one of the most reliable jobs in professional music.
In May, the Philadelphia-born guitarist announced he was leaving the show, ending an 18-year relationship with Leno. This Thursday through Sunday, Eubanks and his new band — former "Tonight Show" drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, saxophonist William Pierce (chair of the woodwind department at Berklee College of Music, Eubanks' alma mater) and bassist Rene Camacho — perform at Jazz Alley.
"I'll have people who immediately say, 'Oh I get it, 18 years,' " Eubanks says by phone, in the same cheerful manner television audiences are familiar with. "Those people are mostly other musicians.
"There was nothing bad about having a wonderful job like that. But eventually you want a different pace in your life and you come back home to what your first love is."
In addition to performing and writing more music, Eubanks has taken over leadership of the Thelonious Monk Institute's "Jazz in the Classroom" program. He even taped a pilot for a cooking show — Eubanks is famously a vegetarian — he's shopping to networks.
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