Trumpeter Duane Eubanks comes from a long line of jazz musicians. His mother, all three of his brothers and a handful of uncles are players of note. Theirs is a Philadelphia jazz dynasty.
Eubanks, who brings his Quintet to the Palladium Sunday, initially wanted no part of it.
Even though he played trumpet as a youngster, he tells the Catalyst, “when I was a teenager I couldn’t foresee a future in music. My brothers were playing, but they’d wake up at noon, 1 in the afternoon. I’d see them with their jeans on. And my dad excelled in Business Administration. He’d wake up really early, he’d have a nice suit on, he’d go to work.
“He’d come back from work, and everybody knew him in the neighborhood, so he had a lot of respect.”
So instead of following in the footsteps of his siblings, trombonist Robin Eubanks, or guitarist Kevin Eubanks (the longtime bandleader on the Jay Leno Tonight Show), Duane enrolled at the University of Maryland, and eventually came home with a degree in Business Administration, with a minor in Accounting.
“I was young – it wasn’t a well thought-out mode of thinking,” he laughs. “I was just like, ‘I want to be like my dad.’ And I was good at math. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I figured math, I must be an accountant.”
Fate – and DNA – intervened. At UM, Eubanks’ twin bother Shane, another trombonist, convinced him to join the school jazz band “just for fun.”
And that, as the saying goes, was all it took. “I got hooked, and I really became obsessed with playing the trumpet and figuring out how to get better.
“So I practiced everywhere. And I practiced more than I was reading my business books. So it was pretty evident at that time what I wanted to do.”
The world came perilously close to never experiencing what the Chicago Reader calls Eubanks’ “lovely, burnished tone.” According to Jazz Insider, “Eubanks is a consummate instrumental stylist and composer.”
“I had one more year left in school, and my dad said ‘Man, do you know how much money we put on this degree? You better finish!’ So I finished the degree, and I went back to school for music at Temple University.” He took master classes with Wynton Marsalis, and studied intensely with Johnny Coles.
Then he relocated to New York to begin what has become a distinguished music career.
A big part of the process, Eubanks insists, is keeping one’s ears – and heart – open.
“Doing your homework, listening to the masters,” he says, “you realize who do you like as a musician? As a trumpet player, I was obsessed with Lee Morgan, so I studied a lot of Lee Morgan immensely. Then I said well, who did Lee Morgan listen to? And Clifford Brown came up. I studied Clifford Brown, and I said ‘I might as well keep going,’ you know? So I got into Freddie Hubbard and guys like that. Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell.
“I became obsessed with not just trumpet players but music in general. So I did a lot of listening and transcribing and learning great trumpet solos. And through listening and learning these solos, a bit of yourself comes through. You start to hear yourself in these great solos.”
He admits that study often included playing records at a slower speed, so he could learn the solos.
“That’s what it took. I was in over my head, in a way! They were playing so fast, and with the intricate lines, I had to slow things down.”
He has released four albums as bandleader, and shared two Grammy Awards as a member of the Dave Holland big Band. Eubanks also played on sessions for Alicia Keys, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Wu-Tang Clan, Freedom Williams and Kirk Franklin.
Musicians, he insist, never stop learning. “When you get to that point, you’re pretty much done,” he says. “There’s always something to learn. If not on your instrument, then harmonically and theoretically, there’s not just one thing, there’s always a list of things to work on.”
Jazz players, in general, don’t aspire to be big stars or household names. Their goal is simply to honor the muse.
“I think all musicians need to understand their role as musicians,” Eubanks affirms. “Our duty is to emote. It’s emotion. Human emotion. Hopefully it’s a positive experience for the listener.
“That’s our duty, and our role. We’ve all been chosen – I believe, anyway – to deliver messages from the universe through our music. And listeners have a role, too, to be open enough to receive the messages. But we’re basically just transcending spiritual messages from the high being, directly to the listener.”
Details and tickets here.