Guitarist Kevin Eubanks Fondly Reminisces About Bradley's and '80s NYC While Asking, "Whither Jazz?"
Updated: Jul 14
Fellow Philadelphians Kevin Eubanks and pianist Orrin Evans, duet partners in EEE, the Evans Eubanks Experience (photo by Anne Webber)
Philly guitarist Kevin Eubanks and I have history. We go all the way back to the early ‘80s in New York, which young guitarists today coming out of the Berklee College of Music or William Patterson University or similar programs all across the country regard with the same sense of awe that I held for NYC’s 52nd Street scene of the late '40s and early '50s when I first came to town in 1980. Indeed, only 32 years had passed since Charlie Parker played at the Onyx Club, Royal Roost and the Three Dueces with pianist Duke Jordan, trumpeter Miles Davis, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Max Roach in 1948 and me arriving in the Big Apple. Now 42 years have passed since I first saw Kevin Eubanks playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at Mikell’s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1980. I was as impressed then with Kevin’s unorthodox technique and six-string fire as I am today.
I remember writing the first story that appeared in national print (for Downbeat) on this young guitar marvel. This was back in 1982 around the time that his debut album, Guitarist, had come out on Bruce Lundvall’s newly activated Elektra-Musician label. That album title always struck me as a kind of affirmation for the then-25-year-old Philly native and recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he had formed a hotshot Mahavishnu Orchestra-inspired fusion band with classmates Gerry Etkins on keyboards, Barron Browne on electric bass and Tommy Campbell on drums (that collegiate fusion band would later get back together for a scintillating reunion on Eubanks’ 1984 album, Sundance).
Since his auspicious debut in 1983 on Guitarist, the album that introduced his signature eschewing of the pick for playing with fingers and pulling/snapping the strings with phenomenal results in terms of sheer speed, rich chord voicings, Eubanks has appeared on over 100 albums, including 17 as a leader. Of course, there was also his well-known tenure of 18 years as guitarist in the house band for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1992 to 2010, the last 15 years of which he served as musical director after Branford Marsalis departed in 1995. Early on in Kevin's stint as musical director and sometime comic relief on The Tonight Show, he agreed to play on one track of a Pat Martino album that I produced for Blue Note Records with my partner Matt Resnicoff (1997's All Sides Now). Pat and Matt and I flew out to Los Angeles for two sessions at Complex Studio engineered by the legendary Malcolm Cecil, a British bassist (formerly in the house band at Ronnie Scott's club in London) and synthesizer pioneer who also engineered and co-produced such landmark Stevie Wonder recordings as 1972's Talking Book, 1973's Grammy-winning Innervisions and 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale. We converged at the Complex with Kevin on the morning of November 13, 1996 and proceeded to record the two-guitar duet piece, "Progression," which had Eubanks doing his thing on steel-string acoustic guitar.
Among my favorite recordings in Kevin's discography is 1985’s Opening Night on GRP, which alternates between swinging fare like the title track, thoughtful acoustic guitar numbers like “Shades of Black,” the McLaughlin-inspired “Thought About Thinking” and the mellow “To Be Continued.” He is joined on the exceptional outing by such world-class players as bassists Buster Williams and cousin Duane Eubanks, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, pianist Kenny Kirkland, flutist Kent Jordan and fellow Berklee classmate Branford Marsalis on tenor sax.
Others favorites in his discography include a string of ‘90s Blue Note releases — 1992’s Turning Point (with bassists Dave Holland and Charnett Moffett, drummers Mark Mondesir and Smitty, and flutist Jordan); 1993’s Spirit Talk (with Holland, Jordan, Smitty, Mondesir and brother Robin on trombone); 1994’s Live at Bradley’s, which finds the guitarist stretching on standards with pianist James Williams and bassist Robert Hurst. On debuted on Mack Avenue with 2010’s Zen Food and followed with 2012’s The Messenger, which reunited him with siblings Robin on trombone and Duane on trumpet, as well as drummer Smitty and former Berklee classmate Bill Pierce on tenor sax. He then joined with fellow guitarist Stanley Jordan on 2015’s intimate Duets and followed with 2017’s East West Time Line, which featured dynamic interpretations of Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane,” Chick Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse” and “Cubano Chant” by his uncle, pianist Ray Bryant.
A longtime collaborator with Dave Holland, going back to the bassist’s 1989 quartet album Extensions (with drummer Smitty and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman) and including 2013’s Prism (with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland) and 2021’s Another Land (a brilliant trio recording with drummer Obed Calvaire), Eubanks’ latest collaboration is with fellow Philadelphian, pianist Orrin Evans. Their EEE: The Eubanks-Evans-Experience (Imani Records) is an uncannily simpatico duet that draws heavily on their common language and shared background from North Philly. It includes a delicate remake of “The Novice Bounce,” the Eubanks composition which originally appeared in a more chopsy, jumped-up fashion on the guitarist’s album 40 years ago. As Kevin recalled of their recording of that tune at Morningstar Studio just outside of Philadelphia: “Orrin just started playing it at a slower tempo and I was just about to open my big mouth and say, ‘Let’s take the tempo up.’ But then I started really listening to it and started playing the melody, it just felt good there. Orrin played it really beautiful and more relaxed. I hadn’t felt it like that and wouldn’t have thought to slow it down like that. You know, on my first record I was just blazing on it. But this felt really nice.”
The two kindred spirits also deliver a mellow rendition of Omar Hakim’s bouncy groove number “Dreams of Lovin’ You” from trumpeter Tom Browne’s 1980 album, Love Approach. “Again, we slowed it down into a ballad and it just felt good to play it like that,” said Eubanks. “When we were working on this stuff, I said to Orrin, ‘Man, we’re bringing back pretty, we’re bringing back sweet to jazz.’ I mean, we need pretty things, we need beautiful things, we need flowers. It doesn’t always have to be just grit and grime. You know, can we touch other things in people? We can always do the aggressive thing and let that out, but let’s not be pushing it in people’s face. Let’s focus on the beauty of things.”
On the rawer side of the coin, there is the blues-soaked, gospel tinged “I Don’t Know” and the open-ended “And…They Ran Out of Biscuits!,” which has Evans improvising freely over Eubanks’ low-end drone. Two tracks recorded live at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia — “Variations on the Battle” and “Variations on Adoration” — lean more to the fusion side of things, involving intricate, chamber-like unisons and fretboard fusillades from Eubanks. “I was so affected by that whole era of music for guitars in the ‘70s,” he said. “I grew up playing a lot of rock music and funk music -- Sly and the Family Stone, Wishbone Ash, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Zappa. I would go to the Spectrum all the time in Philadelphia to see everybody. It was just so full of music, an amazing time.”
While Eubanks still flaunts his searing fusion chops in the energized setting of Dave Holland’s Another Land, he is operating on a much more intimate level on his latest outing. “This duo project with Orrin has turned into a lot of different interesting things,” he said. “It’s a Philly thing, so it’s kind of easy for us to communicate. Sometimes you can take that for granted but when you do hook up with someone like that, the music kind of finds you. Tony Williams said to me one time, ‘When you find a musician that you make the most music with the least amount of energy, you don’t even realize how much energy you’re putting out.’ It feels like that when Orrin and I play together. You know, we can follow each other and a lot of intangible things that can happen that way. So our attitude for this project was, ‘Man, let’s just play! Let’s just let it hang out. We can bring the pretty back but keep the grit in there, keep the vibe in there of what we came through in Philly. I need some prettiness in the world but at the same time, I still like some grit.”
The following long-ass, rambling conversation between two old friends took place during the spring of 2022:
Bill: I noticed that the last two tracks on the new record, “Variations on the Battle” and “Variations on Adoration,” were recorded live at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia.
Kevin: Yeah, that was right before a pandemic or maybe during the early parts of pandemic. I don’t remember wearing a max when we played, but I probably put the mask on after our set when I was walking around the club.
Bill: On those two live tracks, you really feel the energy exchange between you two guys and with the audience. It’s very conversational.
Kevin: Yeah, and that’s a beautiful thing about playing live. Without the live people, there is no live music. The audience is coming in and bringing their energy. That’s an important part of the whole thing. It's all together. You just can’t have a conversation with no one. People that come out to see live music show courage as well. You have to put some energy out to do it and go there, and their energy comes across to us on the bandstand well. And if we don’t get that energy back, it’s kind of like talking to a brick wall.
Bill: This project must’ve overlapped a bit with the Another Land project with Dave Holland and Obed Calvaire.
Kevin: Yeah, it did. We didn’t get a chance to tour with that trio, which was unfortunate. Obed was out working with Wynton Marsalis and Dave was pretty busy with some other things. Everybody’s trying to find their balance. We gotta get that trio out because it’s really great live. But we did some stuff in Europe with Dave and Obed and then we came back and put the recording together. So that’s why it has that kind of energy to it. But everything just got so twisted with traveling. It's really a challenge these days.
Bill: Was Dave traveling with electric and acoustic basses on that European tour?
Kevin: No, he played electric bass in the studio when we came back from Europe. He didn’t play electric when we were traveling. I’ve been encouraging him more and more to play electric bass, especially some of the songs that were on that last record we did, which were pretty aggressive, like “Grave Walker” and “Mashup.” Electric bass gives it a different little vibe on it.
Bill: Regarding the your collaboration with Orrin in the EEE, have you guys known each other for while or did your meet more recently?
Kevin: We’ve known each other for a long time. We both came up in North Philly. His mom was a vocalist and my mom was a pianist and vocalist. And I didn’t know until rather recently that my mom and his mom played together back in the day. They didn’t live far from us. I’m older than than Orrin so we didn’t really hook up as kids, but we’ve known each other for a long time. We caught up with each other getting more into the New York scene, and everything that goes with that. We just started playing more and more together and one day I said, “What do you think about doing a duo gig, just the two of us?” And that’s kind of where it started. There really wasn’t any thought involved other than, “We should just do that!” And because it’s a Philly thing, it’s kind of easy to communicate. Sometimes you can take that for granted but when you do hook up with someone like that, the music kind of finds you. Tony Williams said to me one time, “When you find a musician that you make the most music with and with the least amount of energy, you don’t even realize how much energy you’re really putting out.” It feels like that when Orrin and I play together. We can follow each other and a lot of intangible things can happen that way.
Bill: Is North Philly where you’re both from the same area where the famous Sun Ra house was?
Kevin: That was more in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. I used to go to school in Germantown and that house was nearby. I started seeing those cats who looked like they were from outer space and I was like, “Where are you guys from?” and they’d just say matter-of-factly, “Oh, we’re in that house over there.” I mean, there’s just so many musicians from Philly that you couldn’t get away from music in Philadelphia, whether it was funk music, R&B, soulful stuff from Teddy Pendergrass and Kool & the Gang, not to mention all the jazz stuff that was happening around town. And as we got a little bit older, we soaked up more and more of it. When we started playing in neighborhood bands it was mostly funk things at parties and dances. But then when you start hearing more and more jazz music and you start seeing live gigs and you say, “Oh, this is great!” When you’re growing up, a lot of stuff happens between 12 years old and 18 years old, and during that whole time, unless your family is into it, you don’t really hear jazz. You can’t dance to it, you don’t know how to sing to it, you don’t know where the beat is. You don’t know this and that and the other, so it’s hard for young people to deal with jazz. It would be great if they got exposed to it when they’re younger, then they'd figure all of that out and put it in the way they could use it. But it's like, “Oh, I have to be old enough to drink before I come and listen to jazz?” That’s terrible for the music, I think. How does jazz become as accessible to young people as the funk, pop and rock music I was growing up with? I don’t know. That’s a dilemma.
Bill: It wasn’t always that way. Back in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s, Birdland had the so-called Peanut Gallery, which was a half-priced section in the club where young kids could sit and dig the music while sipping soft drinks.
Kevin: Yeah, I wish that was happening in every club like that today. And it’s kind of a rough road for younger people because not only are they missing out on the music but they’re missing the positive benefits that come from the music. Because when jazz gets into you, you start thinking a little bit differently and you start solving other things in your life. And that all works together. So I think jazz music loses something in that and younger people lose something as well because they won’t get to be affected by the music in a positive way like that. When you hear all that Motown stuff and you realize it’s jazz musicians doing it, that’s an example of how it all can be put together. I just wish something would happen that would make that possible today.
Bill: Tell me about re-making “The Novice Bounce” from your first album. Originally, you played it on steel string acoustic.
Kevin: Right. On my first record I was just blazing on it, but we decided to slow it down on this new version. And when I went back and checked out Guitarist recently, I had forgotten that Roy Haynes played on that track.
Bill: Roy, who just turned 97 the other day.
Kevin: Woooo! Unbelievable. Great, great, great, Roy. What a great man. I loved playing with him, I learned so much. Man, those were days in New York. Oh, man.
Bill: I remember seeing you playing with Blakey up at Mikell’s in 1980 or so.
Kevin: Oh yeah. That was great. I loved being New York in the ‘80s, all the way through. I was so happy being in New York. I loved being in the Village. My favorite place to go to was Bradley’s. Everybody else’s gig would be over and then everybody would converge on Bradley’s to catch that last set that started at one o’clock or two in the morning. It was beautiful. I got to play there with all these great piano players like Kirk Lightsey, James Williams, Larry Willis. I loved that place, man. Yeah, that was a great time. I had a blast in the ‘80s, man. It was so much fun in New York. I was just so excited about everything. Everywhere you went, everybody was playing...clubs all over the place. I would go out the door broke as could be and I didn’t know where I was going. I’d just get on the subway…”I'm going to see somebody play!” It was always something. You hang out in the Village and you go into Midtown, you go Uptown. What a beautiful time it was. And the masters were still playing -- McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes. Man! That was a great time.
Bill: Did you hang much at Seventh Avenue South, the club that Mike and Randy Brecker started up in the late ‘70s?
Kevin: No, that wasn’t my spot. I was always at Bradley’s but I also liked Sweet Basil and I would go uptown to Mikell’s a lot. I did play a couple times at Seventh Avenue South with Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath and Art Taylor. Oh man, that was so cool!
Bill: I remember seeing Blakey at Seventh Avenue South when Wynton and Branford were in the band. They looked like teenagers.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s probably when we all kind of were playing with Art at certain times. I would get a call from Art and he’d say, “Johnny O’Neal can’t make it. Come on over and play these two shows with us.” And I learned so much on those gigs, and not just the notes, man. We were still studying like crazy but the feeling of everything was the real education. It just felt like you were part of this huge thing, and everybody sounded so great. Everybody had so much energy and everybody felt good. I’m so glad I was able to partake in that whole decade or two when New York felt like that. I’ve never felt anything like what it was through the ‘80s. By the beginning of the ‘90s, I was with Blue Note then with Bruce Lundvall. And he was really good for me. He told me, “Just write what you want to write, play what you want to play.” And I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah, do what you want to do. We want to put some real strong creative music out and we want you to do it.” And all I could say was, “Thank you, Bruce.”
Bill: Your Live at Bradley’s album came out on Blue Note.
Kevin: Yeah, Bruce did that. And he had Michael Cuscuna helping me produce that. That was fun. It was me, Bob Hurst and James Williams, and I was just so happy to have a record out of Bradley’s, ‘cause it was my place. I’d go there all the time.
Bill: Yeah, I remember one night I went to the bar to order a drink, and all of a sudden I looked to the left of me and there’s George Benson at the bar and to the right of me is Cecil Taylor. And I’m like, “Wow, this really is a special place.”
Kevin: It was, man! And everybody just chilling. It’s almost like the last set was for the musicians. It was like the musician bar in the wee hours. It was so nice, man. They would let me stay all night with just one beer because I was so broke. I’d be sipping on it and they’d just fill it up again. “No, you’re here, you’re part of Bradley’s now.” And then when Wendy (Cunningham) took over, I got to play there a whole lot. You don’t get that vibe anywhere else these days. You just loved what it brought to you. And that had a lot to do with keeping such a great attitude amongst the musicians, that we can all get together and see each other and listen to whoever was playing, what beautiful music there. That’s one of the things I never forget, how strong of a fraternity Bradley’s was.
Bill: Along with funk and soul music in Philly, you also came up with fusion. And in fact, your college band at Berklee was a killer fusion band. Mahavishnu Kevin Eubanks, right?
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. I was so affected by that whole era of guitar-oriented music. I grew up playing a lot of rock music and funk music -- Sly and the Family Stone and Wishbone Ash, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Zappa. I would go to the Spectrum all the time in Philadelphia to see those bands. That era was just so full of intense music. Just amazing.
Bill: From your first album to your current album 40 years later, you’ve maintained this ability to dig in with the fingerstyle comping and make it extremely funky — poppin’ notes with your thumb on the bass strings and that whole thing.
Kevin: Yeah. To this day I still love funk music. And when you’re playing funk on guitar, from the time you were a kid, you’ll never forget that feeling. That doesn't go away. So once you keep playing, after a while it just starts coming back to you. And if you’re playing a lot of jazz, it’s going to find its way in there as well. It’s just how everything moves with people. When I hear certain piano players and gospel things come out, I just love that. My mother played gospel music her whole life and I love gospel music. I always loved the sound of Hammond organs in church. I’d go to church every Sunday — Tenth Memorial Baptist Church in North Philly — and I’d be on my mom’s lap while she’s trying to get the choirs together. So I grew up hearing that all the time, going to rehearsals in my mom’s church. So now when I hear gospel music, I love it. You got the organ and you got the piano, you got the tambourines and the choir is just feeling so warm and has so much feeling to it. But the thing that always perplexed me about gospel music is, “Where's the guitar?” There’s no guitar in gospel music. And I was always like, “No, I want to be part of this!” And my mother said, “Then you should sing. Why don’t you join the choir? Why don’t you go to church wherever you’re at and join the choir there?” And I should have done what she said. I didn't do it. I think that would have changed something in me if I had done that. So I hope that Orrin and I get to do another record because I think I’m gonna want to sing on it.
Bill: I do remember seeing a gospel group in the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival some years ago. And this particular group was led by a preacher who sang and also played guitar. And when things got really heated and everybody started going crazy, he took his shoe off and used it as a slide. And that took it over the top.
Kevin: Wooooo! I mean, what can you say? He ain’t going to school for that.
Bill: He started playing some Elmore James shit with his shoe on the guitar, and the parish erupted at that point.
Kevin: I’ll bet! I would like to start getting more and more into blues and gospel music. I really would love to be on tour with a real blues group. I once got the chance to play with Buddy Guy at this club. We played all night, just the two of us and his band. And he just said to me, “Kevin, you should play more blues music. But before you leave us, you’re going to have to sing before you get off of this stage. You hangin’ tonight. You can’t get off this stage without without singing some blues.” So, it was a beautiful night.
Bill: And so, you sang?
Kevin: Of course. I know those cats. If they like you, you can’t leave without singing. If they don’t like you…alright, cool. But if they like what you doing, they’re not gonna let you off stage unless you sing something. And I thought it might come up so I had this song prepared called “I Fell Asleep in Heaven and Woke up in Hell.” And Buddy said, “Man, I want to hear this! I love that line. That’s some real blues!” We had beautiful time that night. It was like how I got this real vibe from playing jazz in New York. But if I was in a place where I could really be a part of some blues and then put some gospel stuff in there too, I’d be so satisfied. It’s all kind of the same anyway, gospel and blues. It’s like a tree. This branch goes this way, and this branch goes that way, but the roots are the same for each.
Bill: The other day I watched some footage of Freddie King singing “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?,” and he sounds like a gospel preacher singing to the congregation. The only difference is in church they would sing it, “Have You Ever Loved Jesus?”
Kevin: Uh-huh. Gospel, blues and jazz too…it all comes from the same roots. But I feel that jazz gets pushed so far in the historic types of way of looking at it that it takes us out of the moment of what’s happening now and what’s the connection between jazz and society. So I feel like there’s a gap between jazz and society, and that makes it a little bit harder for younger people to be a part of that and what they can bring to it. If you go back to the ‘50s and ‘60s, jazz music was a part of society. If something was happening, if there was protest, jazz was part of it, funk was part of it. You had everybody from Carlos Santana to Joni Mitchell to Sly, Jimi...burn your draft card, do this, do that...Neil Young with his protest song about Kent State University. All of this stuff was happening at the same time and music was a part of it. And the energy of it inspired me to get deeper and deeper into it to the point where I started feeling like, “Man, I really can’t think of doing anything else.” I think the music was a reflection of what society was feeling. And between Kent State and Martin Luther King and the war in Vietnam…all of this stuff is happening at the same time, and that energy was tied in with the music energy of the time. It was all of it together. And that energy brought some of the the most beautiful music; not just beautiful, but it was also a part of your everyday life as well. Music and politics and social change…it was all together. And there’s a disjunction now from music, especially in jazz anyway. I’m not saying everybody because there are definitely some people that are addressing politics in their music. But in general, it’s dissipated. Music used to be almost like journalism. I mean, the lyrics, the way people played, what they talked about..it was all part of the same thing. And now music is over here and the people are over there and this is going on in society and we’re over here doing something else. Or we’re on TV, we’re on this website, we’re on Twitter. Everything just got so disconnected. And all the talent and all the potential energy is still there. It just needs to be connected to what’s happening in society now.
Bill: Like Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite or Trane's “Alabama” or Mingus' “Fables of Faubus.” Didn’t Archie Shepp have a tune about Attica? That was all right on the surface in that moment very urgently. Jazz as protest music. And I don’t really feel that mingling of politics, sociology and music coming together that much right now.
Kevin: Right. And that music inspired everybody. The music was part of the streets, it was part of what was going. It wasn’t just music. Jazz in the '60s was addressing what what happening in a larger sense. And I think we lost our young audience because we’re not standing by the young audience or getting young people into jazz now. I mean, we’re never going to have a problem with finding talented people and great musicians. We’ve never had a lull in any kind of genre of music in this country. Music is great in this country, whatever kind of music, whether it’s soul, funk or jazz or pop country, whatever. That’s an energy that’s here, but how does it connect to other things? That education, I think, would be nice to really bring into the classrooms, where we’re talking students about what do they feel like in society. Do you think you have any voice? What are you thinking about now? I mean, we should have socialized video games that are not just about shooting cars and making war stuff like that. You know, can we talk about how do you not miss the boat of being a part of society because we’re after this thing and we’re after that thing? But what do you really have to say about it? And yeah, you have to be mature at a younger age because you got to survive through all of this. So I'm interested in this. And I’m not saying to listen to somebody that’s older, I just want to have a conversation. But I want to listen to what’s happening. And I’m trying to get some things together in that regard. I’m on the board at the DC Jazz Festival because I want to be more into the educational committee that’s there for a lot of stuff in D.C. And I would love to hear what high schoolers are talking about. I would love to ask younger musicians, “Do you feel that the music is part of what you think? Is it jazz music, is it hip hop., is it gangster, is it this, is it that?” These are just titles. I’m not really a fan of different titles, but that goes with business these days. But really, “What do you think about? Is there music that reflects what you see out here? And what music don’t you see out here? What music do you feel is a part of you?” I would love to ask them so many questions: “Where do you go out to hear or see music? Is jazz anywhere in that area for you? Is that in your wheelhouse at all? And if not, why not?” Jazz musicians wrote things in the ‘60s that inspired generations of musicians coming up. Now, I’m not trying to turn the clock back so people can know even more about Trane or Miles and Archie Shepp. But what I want to know is what do young people see? Do they see themselves in that music? In terms of what’s happening in society, is it reflected in our music? Or are we just really, really good musicians just doing our thing and that’s it?
Bill: To integrate jazz into a real societal effect rather than keeping it as some precious virtuosic thing up on the top shelf.
Kevin: Right. Because there’s a part of it that thinks, “Does it matter just because we can play our asses off? Does that really touch people? Is it part of society?” And speaking for musicians in my generation…well, maybe we got our careers together and we did our thing, we worked hard, we trained, we kept playing against all odds, we toured all over the place. And that’s cool. But if you want to bring younger people to jazz, I think we have to bring it to them. We’ve got to figure out a way to show them that we’re with them. And it’s important to convey the message that jazz should be part of American history, not just black history but American history. But is jazz lost in certain ways because we’re not social music anymore? We’re not part of the protest, we’re just great, virtuosic musicians. You know, “Wow, you sound great, you’re swinging, you’re doing this, that and the other.” In one way, yeah, that’s great. But in another way, it feels like as great as the musicians are, we aren’t connected to what’s happening in society? And we have to resolve that, somehow.
Bill: To get back to the new album, what is it you are doing on “And They Ran Out of Biscuits.” It sounds like it might be a loop?
Kevin: No, I don’t do loops, but I play ‘em. Because I wanted it to still be, you know, real. Not that I’m putting down looping. I hear people using loops creatively all the time where it sounds like a band. But that’s not what I want to do. This tune is named for a gig that Orrin and I did together. I can’t remember where it was but something smelled so good and I think it was coming from across the street. This particular place was known for its biscuits and I said to Orrin, “Wherever that smell’s coming from, I want to try that.” So we played a set and thought we were go over to investigate between sets, but when we got to the place across the street, they had run out of biscuits. That’s how good they were. It’s just a loosely improvised piece over this pedal that Orrin is playing.
Bill: And on “Variations on the Battle” you’re playing some very low end stuff. Is that an octave pedal?
Kevin: Right. It’s an old school Boss Octave pedal that I use. Guitar players probably have it in the back of their mom’s closet at home somewhere. This is just some raw analog shit. And it’s not like I’m trying to be the bass player in this duo, I just wanted that frequency on that tune.
Bill: What was your overall attitude going into this duo project with Orrin?
Kevin: It was, “Let's just go with our flow and see where it's at.” Our attitude for this project was, “Man, let’s just play. Let’s just let it hang out. We can bring the pretty back but also keep the grit in there; keep the vibe in there of what we came up through in Philly. I need some prettiness in the world. I need to see stuff like that. But at the same time, I still like some grit. And I just love playing with Orrin, because he can operate on both levels. So I just love the duet vibe that we have together.