Meet Duane Eubanks
DE: I've been playing with my brother Robin as part of Mental Images for two years now. Robin has led Mental Images longer than that though; he recorded it on JMT in 1994. We just started to get some gigs. We recently led a master class and concert in Omaha, and we were on tour in May. We worked at Yoshi's in California and ended up in New York. It's really strange: I've been to Europe four or five times, but I had never been as far west as Chicago until now. The release of his CD, Get 2 It, has helped us line up the gigs. That's really not a straight-ahead jazz CD. That kind of music isn't Robin 's preference. I think he sound best when he plays in odd meters. His music has opened my ears as a musician immensely.
AAJ: How did you join Mental Images?
DE: I think Robin had a little gig, and he thought he would give me a chance. I got through it, and I guess he decided to keep me in the group.
AAJ: Had you played in unconventional meters before you worked with Robin?
DE: No, I hadn't. I was playing basically straight-ahead. I'm getting used to the different meters. At first, it was difficult to keep time.
AAJ: Did Robin's music require a lot of practice?
DE: It did. It was a matter of conquering something new. That's how I approached it.
AAJ: Well, the music comes together well.
DE: Gene [Jackson] and Lonnie [Plaxico] have been playing with Robin for at least twenty years. Gene was in Kevin's band when Robin used to play with Kevin. They all have a connection that a band leader needs.
AAJ: Did the whole family perform at the Mellon Festival in 1999 when Kevin and Robin were honored?
DE: Yes. I was fortunate enough to sit in. The Mellon Festival was a good situation for the entire family to perform together. We did a tribute to my dad. That was a very rewarding experience because I don't get to play with Kevin at all. I've sent him some of my CD's, and I hear him when he comes to town. I don't get to see him very often. He comes home for holidays, but otherwise we don't get to interact as much as we would like. I love his level of musicianship. Robin and Kevin are at a level that makes it possible for younger players to be exposed to the music. The Young Lions scene was part of their generation. Wynton, Branford, Bobby Watson, Billy Pierce and Javon Jackson were the young cats who were given the opportunity to develop their music. Now, their music has become something like the norm.
AAJ: And all of that music started with Art Blakey, which gives an indication of the immensity of his contributions to jazz. Former band members like Kevin and Branford have gone to The Tonight Show. Kevin was part of the M-Base scene. Wynton has gone on to lead the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and earn the Pulitzer Prize. Terence Blanchard is writing movie scores. Peter Washington has worked with countless musicians. Benny Green, Javon and Geoffrey Keezer are recording on their own.
DE: That's exactly right. I met Art once when Robin was in the band. I never got to play in his band, or anything like that. He was really funny.
AAJ: What are your plans for the future?
DE: I'm just trying to hone my skills. Maybe some opportunities will occur when the second release comes out in the States. I want to work with Mulgrew a lot more. I've been working with Jason Lindner's big band. I joined Jason's band right after his Stretch CD was released. He's a very talented musician. He started his band with a lot of young guys who moved to New York. That was his vision. I'm a member of Dave Holland's big band as well. We performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and he decided to record the band a couple months after that gig. Dave's happy with the recording, and he'll be booking gigs after the CD comes out. Just to be in the situation to play with such talented musicians was great. The band includes Robin, Chris Potter, Steve Nelson, Antonio Hart, Mark Gross, Gary Smulyan, Josh Roseman, Earl Gardner and Alex Sipiagin. It was good for me at this level of development to be heard by that many musicians.
AAJ: Robin seems to be as modest as you are.
DE: He continues to work on his music. Robin gives me something to strive for. To see him continuously working on his craft keeps me inspired.