Exit Interview: Kevin Eubanks

Exit Interview: We try to keep this lighthearted, so some of these questions may sound ridiculous.
Kevin Eubanks: Nah, that’s cool, man.
EI: So as The Tonight Show’s musical director, do you have any responsibilities other than making sure the weed is good backstage?
KE: That the weed gets backstage?
EI: That’s it’s good. Like, um, do you make sure the weed in the green room is quality stuff?
That’s one of those funny questions? [laughs]
EI: Maybe not.
[laughs] Nah, we don’t want to ask that.
EI: Well, that leads to the question of what it is that you do, exactly.
I just pick out music that suits the show, songs we’re having fun with and that the audience will enjoy. If you play “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone, everybody knows it. It’s been on Toyota commercials.
EI: Do you get notes from the network that say, “Play more Foghat because our research shows the audiences like themselves some ‘Slow Ride’”?
No, they trust me to do that. That’s part of what my job is, to realize that I’d rather play some Wes Montgomery, but that’s in conflict with what we’re here to do.
EI: Is there a rivalry between you and Paul Shaffer?
Not that I know of. I’ve never even met Paul.
EI: Really?
I know, it’s funny. John Mayer just came on the show for the third time, and we never met. So he just knocked on my door and said, “Look, we need to sit and talk for a while, ’cause it seems weird we never met.” If I’m in New York and have some minutes, I should just go to Paul and say, “Hey, you’re doing great” [laughs]. There’s only a handful of these jobs in the world, so y’know, we should at least say “Keep up the good work” or something [laughs].
EI: I’ve got this image of your band and his band in a knife fight, West Side Story-style.
[laughs] Nah, it’s just other musicians that have work, and I’m happy for them.
EI: Have any guests on the show impressed you with their musical knowledge?
This is kind of obvious, but Bill Cosby knows a lot about jazz music [laughs]. It’s like talking with the cats I used to play with, like Art Blakey and Slide Hampton. Bill knows all of those people. He and my mom both went to Temple. He’s in my mom’s yearbook.
EI: You are always so happy on the show. Is that really you, or are you throwing furniture in your dressing room?
[laughs] No, I think I’m pretty laid-back. There are some people, like agents, who wish I was a little more high-strung so I’d take advantage of things, like being in movies or commercials. I just have other interests. I live outside of L.A. After living in Philly, Boston, New York and L.A., I’m staying outside of cities. I lived in Allentown for a couple of years [laughs].
EI: Was there a thriving jazz scene there?
: If there was, I didn’t know about it [laughs]. Maybe that’s why I went there. Just a lot of hardworking people. It was really quiet and laid-back.
EI: I was surprised your name isn’t on the Philly Music Alliance Walk of Fame. Joan Jett is on there, and she left town when she was 12. She wasn’t even close to putting a dime in the jukebox yet.
Well, hook me up, man! Throw that in there [laughs].
EI: I’ll say, “Kevin Eubanks is outraged—”
No, you’re outraged! Not me. I’ll get an asterisk next to my name if you do that [laughs].
EI: So let me give you props for your sadomasochistic love of Philly sports. Wearing Sixers and Eagles jerseys on TV, then enduring public humiliation on a national scale can’t be easy.
And in Laker Town. Painful.
EI: Here’s the true test of your Sixers devotion: Will you boo Kobe if he comes on the show?
Nah. I’ll just tell him, “We’re in L.A., I’m doing my gig, you’re doing yours. But when you go to Philly and hear the boos, part of that will be me.” I think I did boo him when the Sixers played the Lakers here.
EI: How tough were the 2001 finals, when they lost?
I had a ball. People say, “Ah, your team’s losing.” That ain’t the point, man. L.A. fans, when their team loses, they stop wearing their colors. If that’s your team, that’s your team. It does look like I’m going to have to wear a hockey jersey—some Philly colors that are actually winning.
EI: You’ll rock a Flyers jersey on the show?
I’m going to have to learn the hockey rules [laughs].
EI: Stick to this: “The shootout has been great for the sport.”
Perfect line. Wow, you sound like you could hang in L.A., talking like that.
EI: Just act like you know what you’re talking about.
That’s it. Just have the right attitude, don’t stay too long, pat ’em on the back and leave.
EI: Can we discuss your role as master of ceremonies for the Playboy Jazz Fest, or will that ruin your rep as a nice guy?
No, no, it’s a wonderful thing to do that. It’s probably my favorite festival in the States. It’s a big party, everybody’s grooving, it’s a nice relaxed environment.
EI: Do they replace the roadies with Playmates?
No, I’m working on that [laughs].
EI: Seriously. Lose the guys with beer guts and get some centerfolds to tune your guitars.
[laughs] I think I’ll stick with “The shootout is good for the game.”