Kevin Eubanks: Refocusing and Looking Forward
AAJ: On a tune like "The Dancing Sea," which has a solid groove going on, did you come up with the rhythm part first and build the melody and progression from there? How do you approach writing those groove-based tunes?
KE: In that case, the groove came later. First came the repetitive line which we do much more with when we play live. The record is just a snapshot of what we were doing on a particular day, but live we can take those moments and really stretch them out. When we play that song live, someone will just start on that line and then it'll develop from there. It'll go wherever the music takes us, but the groove is always added later. That song starts from the top and then trickles down to the groove from there.
AAJ: You also like to use octaves in your soloing, which for most listeners will bring to mind Wes Montgomery and his classic use of that technique on his records. When you use octaves, are you trying to go beyond what Wes did with them, are you aware of that connection or is it just another timbre for you to bring into your melodic palette?
KE: No, I don't really think about it. They're just a powerful tool on the guitar. The guitar is one of the few instruments where we can play octaves, and we probably have the most versatility when it comes to putting them into our solos. Octaves allow you to simplify things, but they also make your statements that much stronger, there's more weight behind your melody lines when they're doubled up like that. It brings the intensity up, but I'm never really thinking about Wes when I switch over to octaves in a solo.
I think the fact that Wes did so many great things, but people focus a lot on octaves, that sometimes it overshadows all of the other great things he did. I remember once that someone asked me to do a chapter in a book on Wes titled "Wes and Octaves" and I turned it down. It's such a slight on him to just talk about octaves, I think that's really gotten out of hand within the history of guitar. He did so many great things with chords and melodies but octaves always get kind of blown out of proportion.
I think he's the greatest ever, so I'm not saying "Oh these are my octaves, don't compare me to Wes." I would love it if people compared me to Wes [laughs]. They just add to the intensity. And sometimes when you're playing with "Smitty Smith" behind you, you need to do what you can to bring more intensity because he'll be right on top of you, pushing you to take it to the next level.
AAJ: There's also a solid legato feel in your left-hand, particularly when you go double time. Is that a sound that you've worked on over the years or again, is it something that just worked its way in over time?
KE: I think I was always hearing that sort of thing because I grew up listening to trombone players. Playing with guys like Slide Hampton and my brother Robin Eubanks, he'd kill me if I said his name first [laughs]. I heard all this lyrically playing and warmth coming from those guys and their trombones, so I got used to hearing music that way.
When I have my guitars made, I have bigger necks put on them. I use really thick strings. I had a compressor built just for me called a DMS-1. I want everything to be as warm as possible. I use that as a starting point and go from there. That lends to a more legato feel, things are smoother with that kind of tone. Working on your sound is something that guitar players really need to spend a lot of time on.
There are a lot of variables in your tone, but the main thing is the guitar in your hands. You can get a compressor and a good amp and then hopefully have a sound guy that won't turn the treble up on you that you worked so hard to develop. "Oh, the guitar was a bit dark so I brightened it for you." Thanks for erasing the last 20 years of what I've been working on with one knob on your board.
I just keep trying to remember that it's my hands and having a good instrument that amplifies what I'm hearing in my head. When you have a good, warm tone a note will stick around for a while. It won't die off right away. It'll ring out and last longer, kind of like a horn player.
AAJ: It seems that a lot of jazz guitarists spend the majority of their time working on changes and harmonic ideas, and very little time really developing their tone. As compared to a classical guitarist who would work on tone the majority of the time and repertoire the minority. But it seems that all of the great players had a deepened sense of tone. That they had worked on it just as they worked on changes. Have you noticed that in the great players? That what makes them stand out is that they're developed their tone, and really thought about how their tone reflects their harmonic and melodic choices?
KE: I would agree with all of that. I really think that it's a challenge with guitar because there are so many moving parts. The guitar, strings, the amp, this, that and the other. Whenever I teach, I always stress that people pay more attention to the basics. What guitar they're going to use, what strings, what kind of amp, those sorts of decisions. I tell them to practice on an acoustic guitar. Get a warm sound on that first and then plug in.
Figure out when kinds of strings you want to use. Do you want round wounds or flat wounds? And when you do figure out what you want to use, with strings or an amp or whatever, there's a reason behind that decision that's based on a tone that you're looking for. And also, don't forget that those are just tools, real solid tone comes from the player, from their hands as much, or more so, as it does their equipment.