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Life after Leno

Kevin Eubanks, musician-in-residence at Jazz on the Mountain, discusses his post-Tonight Show career

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Look, just because Kevin Eubanks left the Tonight Show doesn't mean he's finding the time to re-focus on his music or do what he's always wanted to do or any of the other generalizations the media had written after Eubanks announced his departure as Jay Leno's band leader in April 2010.

The fact is, he's always been focused on his music.

"I don't understand the idea that because I was on The Tonight Show for 18 years that somehow I was not involved with music. And now that I'm not on the The Tonight Show I can go back to being focused on music. That's completely erroneous. That's just not true," he says with a laugh. Anyone who's seen him next to Jay Leno in those 18 years will know that laugh well.

"I guess people assume that because that's the easiest picture to paint of somebody that did a job like that," he says.

Now, he has more time to do all the same things he was doing while he was on The Tonight Show : making records, playing shows and teaching workshops, much like he'll do this weekend at the Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler festival.

He's in town this week serving as the musician-in-residence for the Jazz on the Mountain festival, performing a series of gigs throughout the village and teaching a workshop for the Master Class Series. This will be a chance to see a side of Eubanks rarely seen while blazing through rock and funk standards on late night TV - the master jazz player.

Since 2001 he's released six albums on his own label, InSoul music, with a seventh recently finished and soon to be released. In total, he's played on over 100 albums since the 1980s and in the 15 years before landing the Tonight Show gig he earned a reputation as one of the most versatile guitarists in the business.

"I just play what I do," he says. "I would love to be in a blues band. I would love to do a tour with a blues artist. If I could go on tour with Buddy Guy, I'd love to do that. It's not just jazz."

He's speaking from a tour stop in Philadelphia - also his hometown and setting for his early musical development. His whole family is musical. His mother is a gospel and classical pianist. His uncle is the jazz pianist Ray Bryant. His brothers Robin and Duane are also professional musicians. Kevin started playing violin and trumpet, finally settling on guitar. He attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and moved to New York to start his career.

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