Just one day after Kevin Eubanks officially announced he’ll be leaving Jay Leno’s Tonight Show in May, the late-night show quickly revealed who will fill Eubanks’ job as bandleader: American Idol musical director Rickey Minor, who will make his Tonight debut on June 7th. Minor becomes Leno’s third bandleader in Jay’s tenure as Tonight Show host, following Branford Marsalis and Eubanks.
“It is a privilege for all of us to have Rickey on board,” Tonight Show executive producer Debbie Vickers told the AP. “The Tonight Show has a long tradition of acclaimed musicians in this role, and it’s great to now include Rickey alongside Kevin and Branford.” In addition to his time at Idol, Minor has also collaborated with artists like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys and served as musical director for the Super Bowl and Grammys.
With the move, NBC poaches from Fox one of the most important and unheralded cogs from Fox’s top-ranked show, perhaps exacting revenge for Fox’s flirtation with the idea of adding Conan O’Brien as its late night host. Simon Cowell’s departure from AI at season’s end ensured the talent show will have an incredibly different look next year, and now Minor’s exit means it’ll have a different sound as well. The hiring of Minor also allows Conan fans to breathe easier knowing that rumors of E Street drummer Max Weinberg potentially joining the enemy on the Tonight Show were false. But will Minor’s musical choices elevate the Tonight band to Roots-level coolness? For more on Jimmy Fallon’s crew, the hottest house band in late night, check out ?uestlove’s Fallon countdown.