The news that Kevin Eubanks won’t be Jay Leno’s Tonight Show bandleader much longer makes me wonder who’ll take over that position. Eubanks brought to the job a Wes Montgomery-meets-George Benson soft-jazz lassitude that was made physical by Eubanks’ literally laid-back posture on the bandstand. He also chuckled dutifully at Jay’s jokes, and that was about it.
As far as the history of The Tonight Show is concerned, Eubanks was no Doc Severinsen. Which is to say, Eubanks isn’t a flamboyant showman the way Johnny Carson’s trumpet-playing bandleader was, and he’s rarely called upon by Leno to deliver solo showcases the way Carson used to use Doc — to give the guy some camera time, or to just fill time.
So who will Leno pick as a replacement? He can’t go “hip” — Jimmy Fallon cornered that market with The Roots. Leno can’t head for heartland-rock — Max Weinberg moonlighting from the E-Street Band for Conan O’Brien removes that option. And since irony is alien to Jay, he’ll never search out an equivalent to the multiple levels of put-on and scholarship that Paul Shaffer pulls off at The Late Show.
Leno, being a man of the ordinary people, might want to hire whoever it is who leads the band on American Idol, the ultmate ordinary-people show.
I saw a commercial recently touting a concert tour by “Dennis DeYoung featuring the music of Styx” — no doubt careful legal wording. It occurs to me that Leno might like to use a middle-of-the-road purveyor of oldies like DeYoung, or maybe even Journey (with whoever their latest lead singer is) as his house-band.
Or how about Gene Simmons? You just know he’d dump KISS in a second for an easy paycheck like The Tonight Show, and instead of laughing at all of Leno’s jokes, he could waggle his tongue in approval.
Then I thought of the perfect Tonight Show bandleader: Randy Newman. He loves L.A., and The Tonight Show is by now an L.A. institution.
Newman knows how to lead an orchestra, for pete’s sake, so he’d have no trouble presiding over a talk-show band.
Plus: He’s the sour to Leno’s sweet. Every time the camera cuts to him after a Leno punchline, we’d see that great Newman glare, the down-turned mouth, the grumpy give-me-something-better gaze.
I know: Newman is also a brilliant ironist capable of genius songwriting. But this should not be held against him as a Tonight Show regular. He’s also a self-proclaimed lazy person who takes years and years between albums, so why not spare us the latest knock-off of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” in his umpteenth movie soundtrack, and pour a little vinegary wit onto The Tonight Show?
What do you think?
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