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Robin Eubanks: Master Trombonist... and Would-Be Rock Guitarist?

By Published: November 12, 2007
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Composing and Working With Dave Holland

AAJ: You're a fine composer. How often do you write? Do you write sporadically, or are you prolific?

RE: Sporadically. I'm always hearing stuff, hearing fragments of this and that. Then I have to put the parts together to come up with a big piece. I might have a little piece that I wrote yesterday that I might connect with something I wrote a month or two ago. If I put the two together, I've got a bigger piece—a bigger chunk. Then I'll add chunks to that, and figure out musical ways to combine things. It might end up sounding really different when it's all together.

But I'm always writing fragments. At this point, I'm not as prolific at churning out complete compositions. But there's nothing [laughing] like a deadline. Dave Holland's got a sextet, and we're going to record. We're playing a week at the Blue Note, and the next week we're recording, and he wants me to write something for that.

AAJ: Who's the sixth member? Antonio Hart?

RE: Well, this is a completely new band. It's got [pianist] Mulgrew Miller, [altoist] Antonio Hart, [trumpeter] Alex Sipiagin, [drummer] Eric Harland, Dave and myself. So I've got to write something for that. That's when I come up with stuff—when I have to. When I have a lot of time, it doesn't seem to happen as much. But I'm always hearing stuff, and always writing fragments. I just have to get it together to put things together. And sometimes it comes in big spurts.

But I'm not one of these people who can churn out stuff all the time. I get so meticulous about what I'm writing; I'm very, very critical. So the answer would be "no [laughing]—I'm not that prolific.

AAJ: You continue to tour with the Dave Holland Quintet. This has become one of the most successful bands around, and you have been around since the beginning. With the exception of a change in the drum chair—Billy Kilson being replaced by Nate Smith—this lineup has been in place for a long time now.

RobinRE: Well, Steve Wilson was the first saxophonist.

AAJ: Right. Chris Potter replaced him in the late nineties. This group is a real band in an era where there are less and less working jazz bands. It seems like a great gig, the shows are always really good, and the band is packed with fantastic composers. Does it always stay fresh for you after all these years? Is it still interesting?

RE: Yeah. I'm enjoying it as much now as I was in the beginning, actually. The band's more popular; we're playing better venues, we're making more money, and we're still churning out compositions. That's the nice thing: Dave likes to have pieces from everybody in the band, so it gives you a chance to write for the band and have your music performed. I think that's a very wise move—it helps keep the interest and the investment from the musicians very fresh, because their stuff is being represented also. It helps to get different perspectives on the music from the different composers, because everybody writes with their own unique voice.

So it's still fresh to me. I'm having a great time. This is like the fourth spin-off from the quintet—from the big band to the octet to the sextet—and I'm the only person that's in all of the bands at this point. So it's always nice, and Dave's a great guy. We're very good friends. So it looks like we're going to keep going until we can't go any more!

AAJ: Well, I only know the bands from seeing them in the audience—it's not like I'm hanging out backstage or on a plane with the musicians—but I'm always struck by how unafraid I am of Dave Holland as a bandleader. He seems like a great soul.

Robin EubanksRE: He is. I've been doing podcasts for the last couple of years, and what you said just reminded me of that, because the podcasts give a little insight into the behind-the-scenes things that happen. I have video of us traveling on our tour bus in Europe, and of backstage banter—the group just hanging out. I get emails from people all over the world from people telling me how much they enjoy and appreciate getting to see a band on our level actually hanging out—just seeing what goes on.

The podcasts are really nice, and I'm surprised more musicians haven't taken advantage of the technology, because it's basically free, unregulated content. You can put whatever you want up there. I think doing the podcasts has really paid off well for me; it helps develop a little core following, a fan base. I'm happy to do it, and wish I could do more of it.

AAJ: You have more than podcasts on your website. You put up your opinions about things, whether the subject is politics or music. You're willing to use your website to say what you feel.

RE: Well, I think the internet's just a big soapbox [laughing]. You get up there, speak your mind, and if anyone wants to check it out, they can. If they don't, they can move on. I think it's great for free speech. Especially in these times—I'm very opinionated about a lot of stuff that's going on.

AAJ: I think you obviously love to play music. What's the hardest thing about what you do for a living?

RE: Being away from the family as much as I am. That's hard. The hardest physical part is the actual travel. I love being there; I hate getting there. I love traveling—I've been to Europe well over two hundred times. I have friends all over the world. But I hate having to get from point A to point B. Especially now, with the new travel restrictions; since 9/11, it's become crazy. But I fly, on average, about twice a week, so I'm used to it. But I wish I didn't have to deal with it. That's my least favorite part.

AAJ: Any other plans for the rest of the year, besides touring with EB3 and the Holland band?

RE: I'm teaching at Oberlin. I've been teaching there for ten years; I'm a tenured professor there. I'm also getting ready to do some stuff at New England Conservatory. And just lots of touring, lots of traveling.

Selected Discography

Robin Eubanks and EB3, Live, Vol. 1 (RKM, 2007)
Dave Holland Quintet, Critical Mass (Dare2, 2006)
Bill Bruford/Tim Garland, Earthworks Underground Orchestra (Summerfold, 2006)
Dave Holland Big Band, Overtime (Dare2, 2005)
Steve Turre, One4J: Paying Homage to J.J. Johnson (Telarc, 2003)
Dave Holland Quintet, Extended Play: Live at Birdland (ECM, 2003)
Michael Brecker Quindectet, Wide Angles (Verve, 2003)
Robin Eubanks and Mental Images, Get 2 It (Robin Eubanks Music, 2001)
Dave Holland Quintet, Prime Directive (ECM, 1999)
Duane Eubanks, My Shining Hour (TCB, 1999)
Dave Holland Quintet, Points of View (ECM, 1998)
Robin Eubanks Sextet, 4: JJ/Slide/Curtis and Al (TCB, 1998)
Robin Eubanks, Wake Up Call (Sirocco, 1997)
Mingus Big Band, Live in Time (Dreyfus Jazz, 1996)
Robin Eubanks, Mental Images (JMT, 1994)
Lonnie Plaxico, With All Your Heart (Muse, 1994)
Bobby Previte's Weather Clear, Track Fast, Hue and Cry (Enja, 1994)
Kevin Eubanks, Spirit Talk (Blue Note, 1993)
Robin Eubanks, Karma (JMT, 1991)
Robin Eubanks/Steve Turre, Dedication (JMT, 1989)
Robin Eubanks, Different Perspectives (JMT, 1988)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Not Yet (Soul Note, 1988)
Herb Robertson Brass Ensemble, Shades of Bud Powell (JMT, 1988)
Hank Roberts, Black Pastels (JMT, 1988)
Dave Holland Quintet, The Razor's Edge (ECM, 1987)

Photo Credits
Top and Bottom Photos: Courtesy of Robin Eubanks
First Concert Photo: Andreas Eisler

Second Concert Photo: Jos L. Knaepen

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