The SF JAZZ Collective has earned a worldwide reputation for keeping the tradition of post-bop composition and arrangement alive. Although the personnel changes every year, players who fit the goals and process of the organization particularly well get invited back, and trombonist Robin Eubanks is a prime example of that elite group within the group. Eubanks writes great originals, does funky, challenging yet playable arrangements, and roars on his horn. I spoke with him recently about the group, its tour, and his contributions to this year, which is dedicated to the music of Horace Silver.
How’s the repertoire shaping up? What kind of music can we expect?
Everyone has to bring in a Horace Silver arrangement plus an original composition. I picked something I had actually never heard before, a tune called “The Lady from Johannesburg.” I cued up about 80 songs by Horace Silver on Rhapsody and that’s the one I chose. The original has some great personnel—Mike Brecker, Ron Carter, Lewis Nash, and my friend Steve Turre on trombone. It was recorded back in 1996, and I just did one of my usual numbers on it. The original I wrote is funk based, and it’s in an unusual time signature—5, or maybe 7, I forget which.
How do you go from your big book of tunes to a set list for that particular night?
When we create the evening’s set list we need to look at a number of things. There’s the type of song and how that’s sequenced, because you don’t necessarily want to follow a ballad with a ballad, for instance, so we try to balance that. With 16 songs to choose from you also need to have some respect for set form, and for the contributions that each guy has made. It’s a puzzle, but we figure it out.
SF JAZZ has a tradition of working hard before hitting the road. Is that being kept up?
We’ve been rehearsing 6 hours a day for over a week now, and ask any jazz musician and you’ll find out that that is not the norm. Even so, given the ambition and complexity of this music we’re still not at 100 percent now, but we’ll get there. We have four nights at Jazz Alley from February 25 through February 28 booked as our first gig, and that’s a great place to play that will give us a chance to really find the groove in front of a good audience.
You keep coming back to this group, so you must like it. What’s so special about the Collective?
I love the SF JAZZ Collective. It’s a great organization to work for, especially if you care about writing and arranging. They pay us well, they put us up, and they are open to our suggestions. As a result, the band tends to attract top players. The new additions this year are all excellent. We have Ed Simon on piano, and he’s somebody I’ve known about for a while because he used to work with my brother Kevin. We were on a tour together that took us to Aruba, and it’s been nice to see him again. Mark Turner plays sax with the Dave Holland Big Band as well, so you know he’s got to be good. The trumpeter, Avishai Cohen, was someone I did not know so well, but from what I have heard so far, I am really impressed. He’s great.
What kind of a tour do you have planned?
We get to go to Amsterdam, and you know, when a jazz group books a European tour, typically the first two questions that a musician will ask are “how long do we get to spend in Amsterdam?” and “are we going to Italy?” This time the answers are both good, because we are going to Italy, and we’re spending three whole days in Amsterdam. [Laughs.]
What makes SF JAZZ special for you?
Every year it’s brand new. That’s both the beauty of it and the hard part of it, because it’s a shame to put all this work into the arrangements and then throw it all away at the end of the year because we’re on to a new composer. To be compensated for this type of work is a dream. Of course no one would do it if they weren’t, but still. For me, it’s one among many great opportunities, because I’m also playing with Dave Holland, and teaching at Oberlin, so I’m keeping busy.
SF JAZZ Collective will appear at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Tuesday, March 2 at 8pm.