Retired musician Ray Eubanks will lead a jazz band at the Valley Dale Ballroom

Columbus jazz pioneer Ray Eubanks has been churning out rousing sounds in the capital for decades — and he’s about to do it again.

As a professor at Capital University in the early 1970s, Eubanks was among the local musicians who formed the organization that became the Jazz Arts Group, now the parent group of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.

Eubanks, 80, who led the Jazz Arts Group from 1973 until his retirement in 2002, put his trumpet aside a quarter of a century ago but next week he will perform again before a big band as a conductor.

In what is billed as an “out of retirement” concert, Eubanks will be center stage at the Valley Dale Ballroom, 1590 Sunbury Road, at 7.30pm on Wednesday.

“It’s really unusual for me,” Eubanks said. “Usually when I quit it has to be cold turkey. Music has always been an obsession for me.

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The 17-piece Ray Eubanks and His Big Band Jazz Orchestra – as the ersatz ensemble is called – will include, among others, drummer Jim Rupp, saxophonists Michael Cox and Bryan Olsheski and trumpeter Wes Orr. Trombonist Vaughn Wiester, leader of the Famous Jazz Orchestra that bears his name, will be on hand as a soloist.

Eubanks persuaded to return

Eubanks, who lives in Westerville, said his wife, Joanne, and daughter, Kristen, encouraged him to return to the stage.

“Between the two of them, they’ve been asking me for at least five years to do a gig,” Eubanks said. “I finally thought, ‘Well, maybe I’d really like to do this.’ There is a lot of music that I would like to hear again.

The availability of the Valley Dale Ballroom, whose new managers, Rick and Landa Brunetto, also tried to coax a return gig from Eubanks, was also a deciding factor.

“There are so many upgrades in this place,” Eubanks said. “The interior is truly stunning. The stage lighting system is top notch theater lighting and the sound system is top notch. Then what they did to the ballroom itself was pretty amazing.

What will be played?

But mostly, Eubanks just wanted to have fun making music again with friends and trusted colleagues. He described the program as “direct jazz”.

“That’s what we would call it: straight ahead,” Eubanks said. “The (musical) language is a lot of bebop-oriented music. . . . Nothing extraordinary, certainly. Most are quite remote.

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In addition to bringing in local talent, Eubanks will also use arrangements from Columbus musicians.

“It could almost be called a tribute to Columbus’ greatest arrangers,” Eubanks said. “I do a lot of arrangements of Vaughn and the late Gary Carney and the late Hank Marr.”

Look back and look forward

Few people are better equipped to ruminate on the Columbus jazz giants of yesteryear than Eubanks, who has guided the Jazz Arts Group from its founding through years of growth. Under his leadership, the band toured Europe twice.

Eubanks said he’s proud of what JAG has become, including the legacy of current creative director Byron Stripling.

“Byron did a great job,” Eubanks said. “He was an excellent choice, and he is one of the best trumpeters in the world.”

The only question remains whether Wednesday’s concert will really be Eubanks’ last. Could he be tempted to return to the stage once again? To hear him describe it depends on how things sound next week.

“The most important thing is that the audience really likes it?” he said. “If they’re having a good time, and if the musicians are having a good time, and everyone’s feeling good, who knows?”

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In one look

Ray Eubanks and his Big Band Jazz Orchestra will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Valley Dale Ballroom, 1590 Sunbury Road. Single tickets are $35; tables for 4 are $135. For more information, visit www.eventbrite.com.


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Henry R. Wright