It’s a rare occasion these days when the Eubanks brothers find themselves in the same place at the same time. Two out of three of the Philly-born jazz siblings will share the stage for one night in their hometown when trombonist Robin and trumpeter Duane co-lead a specially-assembled quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café on Saturday night.
“I’m always excited to play with my brother,” says Duane. “It’s been a while since Robin and I have played together, so this is almost a reunion. And being back at home makes it even more special.”
A glance at the brothers’ activities suffices to show exactly why it’s so difficult for them to synchronize their calendars. Robin apprenticed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and is currently an active member of the SFJAZZ Collective, the San Francisco-based collective that explores the repertoire of a single composer each season (they’re about to tackle the work of Joe Henderson). He’s on the cusp of releasing a new CD, Klassik Rock Vol. 1, which features electric jazz reimaginings of classic rock staples by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Sly and the Family Stone, and is planning to record his MassLine Big Band in late July. He’s also a tenured professor at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
Duane is also set to return to the studio next month, and has recently recorded with drummer Jeff Williams and keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe. He’s worked with jazz greats like Illinois Jacquet and Oliver Lake and with R&B and hip-hop stars including Mos Def and The Temptations. Earlier this month he was on stage at Madison Square Garden with Rhonda Ross, opening for the singer’s mother, Diana Ross. He gets back to Philly frequently as part of pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band.
(Middle brother Kevin wrapped up his fifteen-year gig as leader of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band in 2010, released a pair of well-regarded solo albums, and is currently a member of bass legend Dave Holland’s new quartet Prism.)
Born more than a decade after his two older brothers, at 45 Duane still feels like he has something to prove. Saturday’s show, he says, “means being more prepared than a normal gig for me. It’s my big brothers and they’re well established in the industry. They set the bar pretty high. In their eyes, I know I’m always going to be little brother, so it’s a way of being able to prove myself on that level alongside big bro. I know he’ll be listening just as hard as everyone else, and I try to keep the music at a certain level to meet his expectations.”
All three Eubanks brothers have worked with Dave Holland in various capacities, and Duane succeeded Robin in drummer Elvin Jones’ band. “We’ve crossed paths in interesting ways,” says Robin, 58. “I have a lot more history playing with Kevin because we’re closer in age and we came up playing together from the time we were teenagers. I remember when Duane was just getting interested in playing trumpet and encouraging him a lot, so it’s nice to see that he followed through on that path and has carved out his own career. But unexpected come out of that symbiotic connection of being siblings.”
The three have also worked on each other’s projects in different configurations, but to date there’s never been a family band project. “It would really be nice if we could find time to do that,” Robin says. “It’s being bandied about.”
“I have no doubt that it will eventually occur,” adds Duane. “There are a lot of people in the industry who are dying to see something like that, and I know eventually it will happen. As far as when, I’m not sure. The sooner the better for me.”
The Eubanks grew up in North Philly and East Mt. Airy, raised in a musical family. Uncles Ray and Tommy Bryant were working jazz musicians and their mother Vera was a church pianist and organist and educator. “I was hearing music before I was even born,” Robin says, “in her belly up against the piano.”
“I’m lucky – my dad doesn’t like the word lucky – I’m blessed to have grown up in that environment,” says Duane. “I saw the number of hours my brothers put into practicing and organizing bands and rehearsing at the house, with me disrupting their rehearsals as a kid. I was able to see directly what hard work, perseverance and faith can do for you as an artist. I see how my uncles and my brothers influence others, so I’m just trying to follow in their footsteps.”
Tickets and information for the show at Chris’ Jazz Cafe can be found here.
Chris' Jazz Cafe, Eubanks Brothers