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Meet Duane Eubanks

AAJ Staff By

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I found that there's much higher demand for jazz there (Europe). I find that to be a shame because I hate to travel that far to be appreciated. That's been the plight of the jazz musician for years.
Duane Eubanks is the youngest practicing member of yet another one of jazz's famous families, the Eubanks.

In fact, the Eubanks family's immersion in music began with Duane's maternal grandmother, who passed on the tradition to Duane's mother, Vera, and to Duane's uncles, Ray and Tommy Bryant. Vera still performs in Philadelphia, and one of her more famous students—not mentioning the informal lessons she gave her sons—was Kenny Barron.

Born on January 24, 1969 in Philadelphia, Duane Eubanks is gradually gaining attention, especially in Europe, for the inspiring work of his own group. In addition, his bright tone and fluid technique in groups like his brother Robin's, Mulgrew Miller's and the Mingus Big Band's is creating a reputation as a dedicated and original sideman.

As he tours more frequently throughout the Midwestern and Western parts of the United States, bringing his music to new audiences, Duane Eubanks will become even better known to the larger listening public. In this interview, he talks about his career to date.

All About Jazz: The reception of European audiences to your music has been gratifying, hasn't it?

Duane Eubanks: It was really strange. I went over there with Illinois Jacquet for two-and-a-half weeks during my first tour. No one in Europe knew me then. After my first CD, My Shining Hour, came out, we toured Europe again. It was so weird because everyone had the CD before we got there. They already knew all of the members of the band, and they knew a lot of my bio. The label, TCB, is located in Switzerland, and the distribution in Europe was good. That was really strange because it was my first experience at being recognized. It took me by surprise and kind of overwhelmed me. I found that there's much higher demand for jazz there. I find that to be a shame because I hate to travel that far to be appreciated. That's been the plight of the jazz musician for years.

AAJ: Did you get to hang out with some of the people in the audience?

DE: Yes, they were really nice. They took us out to dinner. Getting close to the audience is very important in music. When the audience gets into your music that much, it gives you a reason to keep going on. We went to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark.

AAJ: Who was in your group?

DE: Orrin Evans on piano and Ralph Peterson on drums. The bass chair has been fluctuating between Reid Anderson and Dwayne Burno. I've tried to get a group sound that people automatically recognize. I've had JD Allen on tenor saxophone, but he's currently working with Cindy Blackman. He has a recording of his own too. But we're pretty much in the same boat regarding exposure because we're fairly new to the scene. That's why J.D. and I enjoy playing together. He's one of my favorite tenor players.

AAJ: Does your group play mostly in New York and Philadelphia?

DE: Mostly. We'll see what happens when the next recording comes out. The album is already out in Europe. It's called Second Take.

AAJ: Have you been in other groups too?

DE: I worked with the Mingus Big Band and did a couple of gigs with them, although I'm not a current member of the group. I've been playing with Mulgrew Miller too.

AAJ: Isn't he on the West Coast?

DE: No, he lives in upstate Pennsylvania now. I've been very grateful for working with someone of his caliber. He doesn't even have a record deal. That's a crime. Mulgrew works all the time, but he hasn't had a lot of opportunities to work with his own band. I don't understand the record labels. Not recording someone like Mulgrew isn't helping the music. The music should be first. If the labels followed that approach, everything would fall into place. The labels sign up young guys and try to get them to play like old guys. They should hire the older musicians and let them play the music right. I don't get it. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the answer should be. I know the labels have their formulas.

AAJ: How has Mulgrew helped you?

DE: Oh man, he has opened me up to the music so much. And his level of musicianship is very high. Mulgrew is so musically astute, and he's such a nice cat. He doesn't have a cocky attitude, and he's a great person just to get to know. He can hear everything that's going on, and there's no way to bullshit in music. So he may tell you something that you're doing wrong. He may ask, "What are you playing over those chords?" And if I say, "I don't really know what to play" he'll sit down with me and ask me to try different approaches. Being surrounded by his talent rubs off to some extent. I've talked to a lot of musicians, and they all speak very highly of Mulgrew's musicianship. He has played in my Wings band with Steve Wilson, Karriem Riggins, Richie Goods and myself. We played a week at the Jazz Standard in New York, where he added Steve Nelson. Playing with Mulgrew and Steve Nelson in the same group was a mind-blowing experience.

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