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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Kevin Eubanks, former band director for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” chats with IPFW students Thursday at the Rhinehart Music Center.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Kevin Eubanks, former band director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, chats with IPFW students, Thursday at the Rhinehart Music Center. w/video of Eubanks playing.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Kevin Eubanks, former band director for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” met with about 300 students at the Rhinehart Music Center.

Thursday, December 03, 2015 6:51 am

'Protectors' given praise

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Some might call them mentors. Others, angels.

In front of an audience of thousands of teachers, counselors, social workers, foster parents and others who work with Fort Wayne area youth, renowned jazz guitarist Kevin Eubanks on Thursday called them "protectors." 

And every child, whether from a troubled neighborhood or a background some would consider privileged, needs them.

"They’re people who generate enough love to help people like me to do something or be better," said Eubanks, who described himself as a boy from north Philadelphia who followed music’s lead to "The Tonight Show" as  former host Jay Leno’s bandleader.

Delivering the keynote address at Memorial Coliseum during the 26th annual Conference on Youth sponsored by Fort Wayne’s Great Kids Make Great Communities was just the first step in a day that would take Eubanks to a master class with IPFW music students in the afternoon and a performance last night with the IPFW Jazz Ensemble.

The latter was an experience he was looking forward to, he said in an interview after his morning talk.

"Everybody is coming together for the same purpose, and it immediately becomes a camaraderie, and it becomes a good time," he said. "That’s the wonderful thing about music. It becomes a connecting rod."

That connection came quickly Thursday afternoon when Eubanks, 58, met with about 300 students at Rhinehart Music Center.

When the first question from students was about what kind of guitar he was holding, Eubanks got them chuckling by saying it was a custom guitar made by a Puerto Rican friend in New York City who followed fire­trucks to burned-out buildings to scour them for old wood.

"He would go straight to the stairs and take the wood out because that’s where they always put the best stuff," Eubanks said, adding: "Aged wood is what you really want in an instrument."

Asked if he ever named his guitar, he broke into a broad grin.

"No," he said. "Mine. I call it ‘Mine.’ "

Eubanks outlined his career success as based in preparation that led to relationships that later led to jobs.

He wouldn’t have had "The Tonight Show" gig, he said, if he hadn’t opened the door one day to a neighbor distraught about a girl. The neighbor happened to be Branford Marsalis, who later called Eubanks to join the show’s band. That led to him taking over as leader when Marsalis left.    

Later, Eubanks treated students to a jazz rendition of George Gershwin’s "Summertime," at turns lively in fingerwork and melancholic in mood.

During the morning session, Eubanks, who has become a promoter of music education in public schools, explained that has become his mission because "Music is education. It’s what all education is about. It’s just another way to learn things.

"When kids are not going home with a violin case or a clarinet, they don’t learn they have to show up on time for rehearsal and be prepared. They don’t have to learn to listen to the person next to them. They don’t have to carry something with them all the time, which means they have to take care of it. "

And they miss out on the mentoring, or, as he puts it, the "protecting" that becoming a student of music can bring.

"As soon as somebody comes in and says, "Hey, you sound better today," you get hope. … And hope is not a weakness. Hope is a strength. … Hope is a powerful thing."