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The Tonight Show Band is the band which plays on the American television variety show, the Tonight Show. From 1962 to the 1990s, during the years the show was known as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, it was an important outlet for jazz on American television. During the Carson era, the band was always billed as "The NBC Orchestra" (not to be confused with the NBC Symphony Orchestra) and sometimes "Doc Severinsen and the NBC Orchestra."


The band was founded in 1954, and its first long-term director was Skitch Henderson (1954-57). Henderson was replaced by Jose Melis in 1957, when Jack Paar took over as host from Steve Allen. Henderson returned in 1962 when Johnny Carson took over from Paar. Carson increased the band budget, and Henderson created a major jazz big band by hiring some of the best jazz musicians from the touring big bands which were going out of business at the time, and by commissioning charts from top jazz arrangers. The new band included Clark Terry, Bobby Rosengarden, Doc Severinsen, Urbie Green, Ed Shaughnessy, and Ernie Royal, among others.

In 1966, Henderson left the show and was replaced by Milton DeLugg, who in 1967 was replaced by Severinsen. Severinsen continued to add important musicians to the band, including Louie Bellson, Allen Vizzutti, and Snooky Young. The show's move from New York to California effected a significant change in the band's personnel. In 1992, when Jay Leno replaced Carson, Branford Marsalis took over as musical director, and a new smaller band was formed. Marsalis was succeeded in 1995 by Kevin Eubanks.

In June 2009, Conan O'Brien took over hosting duties from Leno. Max Weinberg likewise replaced Kevin Eubanks as band leader, with the erstwhile house band from Late Night with Conan O'Brien forming Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band. Eubanks and his band migrated to The Jay Leno Show in September 2009 as the Primetime Band. When Conan O'brien left the Tonight Show in February 2010, Leno came back as host for a second tenure, with Kevin Eubanks.



  • Leader/Guitar: Kevin Eubanks
  • Saxophone: Ralph Moore
  • Trumpet: Kye Palmer, Lee Thornburg
  • Trombone: Matt Finders
  • Keyboard: Gerry Etkins, Kenny Kirkland
  • Bass: Derrick "Dock" Murdock, Bob Hurst
  • Drums: Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Jeff "Tain" Watts
  • Percussion/Vocals: Vicki Randle


Additional former members of the New York Tonight Show Band from 1962 on (not including those already mentioned) included:


The Severinsen-led incarnation of the band released several record albums on the Amherst Records label.[1]

  • The Tonight Show Band (Amherst AMH-3311, 1986)
  • The Tonight Show Band, Vol. II (Amherst AMH-3312, 1990)
  • Once More...with Feeling! (Amherst AMH-94405, 1992)
  • Merry Christmas (Amherst AMH-94406, 1992)

See also


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