*This time, the word comes from his own mouth.
“The Tonight Show” bandleader Kevin Eubanks announced during Monday’s taping of the broadcast that he will end nearly two decades as Jay Leno’s sideman on May 28.
“After 18 years of playing America into commercials, I’m gonna go somewhere where I can finish a song,” Eubanks said when Leno asked what he planned to do first.
Leno, who invited Eubanks to sit with him to make the announcement, called their time together “a pleasure.”
“You’ve been a great friend and really supportive. When those jokes die, I got to look to you, man,” Leno told him.
Eubanks, 52, called the NBC late-night show his “home” and said it had been “a wonderful experience” working there.
The musician joined “Tonight” strictly as a guitarist when Leno replaced Johnny Carson in 1992. Three years later, he took over as bandleader and musical director when Branford Marsalis left.
In February, NBC said Eubanks had expressed interest in personal touring and recording. The announcement sparked reports that Eubanks would announce his retirement from the program in the immediate future.
In an interview with the Associated Press after Monday’s show, Eubanks said the highlights of his “Tonight” years were “just meeting B.B. King, Willie Nelson, all these wonderful musicians that I’ve grown to be friends with.”
When he told King he planned to leave the show, the legendary musician expressed suprise but, Eubanks said, “you could see the pride in his face. … He felt pride, like he had something to do with it. It felt good that I was part of the lineage.”
Asked if he would like to see another African-American musician take his place, Eubanks said, “I want to see a really great band leader replace me. But I wouldn’t be mad,” he said, with a laugh.
NBC did not immediately announce his replacement.