At 46, Duane Eubanks isn't getting any younger. That's a good thing, according to the Philadelphia-born trumpeter and composer.
Duane is the youngest of the jazz men in the Eubanks family (guitarist Kevin, trombonist Robin), but he no longer feels like the baby of the bunch. "I must admit that the birthdays feel like they're coming faster and faster, but I'm OK with that," says Eubanks. "From what I know, it beats the alternative."
Eubanks is speaking from his Philly digs in advance of his pre-birthday shows at Chris' Jazz Café on Saturday. He'll be joined by tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Byron Landham.
This year saw the release of his warm and blissful Things of That Particular Nature (five years after his previous album, Another Time). Eubanks says his priorities are drastically shifting. Musically, he says, he's "more interested in reaching the hearts and souls of my listeners." In terms of his improvisations and compositions, he has gained a much higher sense of melody "and reaching for ideas that are more accessible."
He has not, however, abandoned great music. There are gospel, R&B, and hip-hop within the heated grooves of Things of That Particular Nature.
"I have experienced so much in the last years, and hopefully, you can hear the growth in my sound," he says of the development.
He has always taken his own direction. How many jazz artists, for example, would get an M.B.A., as he did at University of Maryland Eastern Shore as a teen?
"I rebelled in seeking my own identity," he says. "I was young and didn't see music as a viable option to make a living, although my brothers were already doing it. I wanted to mimic my dad and his corporate look and demeanor."
Once he got the passion ("through my twin brother, Shane, a music-education major"), Duane came back to music. His first albums, such as 1999's My Shining Hour and 2001's Second Take, displayed his dignified but daring improvisational approach.
They also displayed a powerful depth and sense of melody in his own compositions, such as "Lonelyism," "Clairvoyance," "Ebony Slick," and "Slew Footed." It's also on display on the new album.
"As a songwriter, I'm simply trying to hold on to the strong musical sensibilities that I grew up listening to," he says. "I'm trying to reach and emotionally move the listener.
"I believe melody is a lost art. If people can remember your melody, you are on to something.
"As an improvising musician, it is easy to get caught up in concepts that are only accessible to other musicians. I believe that effective writing can be used as a universal tool for enlightenment and unity. So, as I write, I am drawing from all of the musical positives that I have been exposed to, all of my experiences."
On Things of That Particular Nature, some tracks pay homage to family and nearness. There is homage also to the late Mulgrew Miller, the legendary pianist whose bandstand Eubanks shared for years.
"I am humbled and deeply gracious for the time and effort that he put into instilling strong musical values in me," Eubanks says. "Mulgrew, like my brothers, came along when a strong and musical foundation was in place. Like my brothers, he learned from that great era of artists like Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, and Betty Carter that gave him a strong sense of musical purpose and proper development."
Music cannot be denied in the Eubanks family. "My grandmother saw to it that her children were exposed to music," Duane Eubanks says proudly, "a strong connection throughout the generations."