Is it genetics or environment? ROBIN EUBANKS was born in North Philadelphia and raised in Mt. Airy to a very musical family; his uncle Ray Bryant was a prominent Jazz pianist, and according to Robin: “My mom (Vera, a music teacher) told me I was gonna be a musician, and she was right.” At age 8, Eubanks had already been exposed to various musical instruments, but when he witnessed Christmas carols being performed on the trombone, Robin was fascinated by the mechanics.
“On all the other instruments, when they are being played, you can see how notes are produced,” he says. “Everything is fingered. Trumpets, clarinets, flutes, saxophones…piano, you see people tapping out notes with their fingers. But on a trombone, it’s just an arm movement back and forth…I couldn’t figure it out by looking at it what they were doing. All I saw was an arm movement going and different notes coming out and I was like, ‘How do you do that?'”
At that time, music was in the school systems and the arts were always promoted. So while attending Masterman and Central High Schools, Robin also privately studied theory and brass ensemble at Settlement Music School on Germantown Avenue.
By his early teens, Eubanks was already playing in rock and funk bands. He recalls: “Every neighborhood in Philadelphia had a band…Germantown alone had four or five.” After graduating cum laude from (what is now) Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, legendary mentor Al Grey introduced Robin to Slide Hampton, who took him under his wing with an invitation to move to New York City. Eubanks vividly remembers the day driving up to Slide’s brownstone in Brooklyn because he was listening to the Phillies winning the 1980 World Series on the car radio.
Thus began an impressive career encompassing collaborations with artists Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Eddie Palmieri, Sun Ra, Barbra Streisand, the Rolling Stones and Talking Heads, including Grammys for his performances with Michael Brecker and Dave Holland. Robin won the 2014 Jazz Times Critics Poll for Best Trombonist and is a multiple winner of Downbeat’s Readers and Critics Polls for Trombonist of the Year, and has received composer’s grants from Chamber Music America and ASCAP. His compositions and arrangements have been recorded by The Mingus Big Band, and higher learning institutions throughout the country are performing Robin’s original works, arranging and recording his music for their ensembles. He has recorded nine albums as a leader and contributed his talents to hundreds as a sideman.
Eubanks feels that “Music comes from the environment, nature, birds, insects…if your mind is open enough, you can find music everywhere,” and regarding the Philadelphia Real Book, adds that Philadelphia is “One of the great Meccas for music in this country…or maybe the world.”