Hot jazz of note

A heavyweight combo celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Blue Note label.

Duane Eubanks (photo credit: WWW.DUANEEUBANKS.COM)
Duane Eubanks
(photo credit: WWW.DUANEEUBANKS.COM)
Over the years, the annual Hot Jazz series has brought numerous luminaries of the discipline to these shores, but the next one up promises to top them all. The program is being marketed as a celebration of 75 years of the Blue Note Records company, one of the legendary labels of the industry. While the chronological pretext is a little shaky – the label was founded in 1939 by Jewish New Yorkers Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, with Francis Wolff joining a short while later – Blue Note is such an integral part of the music’s history that, to paraphrase a Hebrew saying, why not celebrate just for the fun of it? Hot Jazz honcho Ziv Ben has lined up a heavyweight combo for the occasion, fronted by stellar siblings from the US, trombonist Robin and trumpeter Duane Eubanks.
There is quality musicianship throughout the quintet, with the group also including New York-based Israeli pianist and composer Alon Nechushtan, bassist Simon Starr, who recently returned to Australia after a long sojourn here, and Slovenian-born drummer Gasper Bertoncelj. The band will do their thing up and down the country from May 21 to 28.
Robin Eubanks brought plenty of genetic baggage with him when he finally got into the musical act in a serious way. In addition to Duane, his brother Kevin is a leading jazz guitarist, and all three siblings benefited from the experience and, possibly, hereditary boon of their music teacher mother, not to mention their feted jazz playing uncles jazz pianist Ray Bryant and bassist Tommy Bryant.
“She was [celebrated jazz pianist] Kenny Barron’s first piano teacher,” says Eubanks.
In fact, to start with, the trombonist had dreams of making a name for himself in a very different area of expertise.
“When I was very young I wanted to be a baseball player, but my mom told me I was going to be a musician,” he says with a laugh. There were occasional family jam sessions. “We’d get together on holidays and play and that sort of thing.”
Eubanks says his choice of instrument was prompted by a desire to get into the physical dynamics of the large and mysterious-looking object.
“It was just out of curiosity. When I was a little kid I saw some students come in to play Christmas songs, and one played a trumpet and one had a trombone. The trombone was interesting because I couldn’t figure out how it worked just by looking at it. With all the other instruments, you could see the fingers doing things and you could kind of see how the sounds were produced; but with the trombone, all you could see was an arm going back and forth. I was curious to find out how you make music just by moving your arm,” he recounts.
The youngster’s musical and professional die was well and truly cast.
“When I was eight years old, on the last day of school they asked me what instrument I wanted to play, and I picked the trombone,” he says, The 60-year-old Eubanks grew in the 1960s, when much of the Western world was getting into the music of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But the American trombonist initially tended towards homegrown sonic fare.
“I was into James Brown and Aretha Franklin and stuff like Sly and the Family Stone. I listened to r&b and funk.
I didn’t get into the Stones until I was into my teenage years, around 18,” he says.
Jazz wasn’t the youngster’s first musical port of call.
“All the bands I grew up playing in were all rock and funk. I didn’t start playing jazz until I was 20.”
Even then it was by default.
“The rock band I was playing in needed me to play solos, and my solos were awful,” explains Eubanks. “I wanted to play better solos, so I went to a music store looking for trombone music, and that’s when I started getting into jazz.”
Late start notwithstanding, the trombonist made great strides and quickly landed prestigious berths with the likes of iconic drummer Art Blakey and former John Coltrane sideman pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones.
“Yeah, I always say I’ve played with half of my favorite band in the world,” says Eubanks with a smile.
Celebrated bass player Dave Holland also helped to provide Eubanks with plenty of stage and recording studio time over the years.
“I was with Dave for around 16 years. I had a great time with him,” he says.
Holland also helped to nurture the trombonist’s writing skills.
“Dave recorded a lot of my compositions,” continues Eubanks, adding that it entailed writing for a wide variety of ensembles.
“I wrote for a quartet, a sextet, an octet and a big band, and I played in all of them,” he recalls.
Throughout his career, while keeping firmly connected with the roots of the music, Eubanks has always endeavored to stay at the cutting edge of contemporary sounds and energies. That is evidenced by his membership in the San Francisco-based SF Jazz Collective, which performs works by leading modern jazz composers such as saxophonist Ornette Coleman, pianist Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter, as well as artists normally considered well beyond the jazz pale, like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. The collective members also write their own stuff and run education programs for youth and adults. That was preceded with a stint with the M-Base initiative which explored the sounds and textures to be found on the wilder and woollier side of the improvisational music tracks.
Even with all that envelope pushing in his bio, Eubanks is still basically a rock- and funk-fueled artist.
That comes over loud and clear in his 2014 release Klassik Rock Vol. 1.
“I guess, in my own personal writing, I lean more towards funk and rock, more so than traditional jazz.”
That said, Eubanks is no slouch at the jazz thing, and along with brother Duane and the rest of the gang, he will no doubt do Blue Note proud here.
The Eubanks brothers will play at the Municipal Conservatory in Rehovot on May 21 (9 p.m.); the Jerusalem Theater on May 23 (9 p.m.); Zappa Herzliya on May 24 (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.); the Einan Auditorium in Modi’in on May 25 (9 p.m.); the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on May 26 and 27 (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. respectively); and Abba Hushi House in Haifa on May 28 (9 p.m.).
For tickets and more information: (03) 573- 3001 and