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Artist Profiles

Charlie Banacos: Recollections of a Legend

By Published: January 28, 2010
"Charlie had a desire to keep music pure. He was a very intuitive player and he tuned into people and music. He was selfless, had no ego and he had a fantastic sense of humor. A lot of people don't know, he was a matchmaker...he even introduced me to my wife, who's also named Jerri. Charlie and I met when we were about 16. We'd play together, sometimes all day—like 8 hours—and we'd be exhausted and would end up taking a nap on the floor, and we'd still have a gig that night. I remember Charlie's mom just walking over us [laughs]. His inspiration is what I remember the most."

Harvie S

"As you know I was one of the few that played with Charlie years ago. Trust me, he was a great pianist, also. I mean really great. I loved the guy and the world will miss him."

Mike Stern

"Studying with Charlie was the most important thing I ever did in my life.

"I had the pleasure of studying with Charlie Banacos for the better part of 30 years. He is the greatest teacher I ever had. What a great spirit, what a special person, such positive energy. We need more people like him. There are so few. I will miss him forever and I aspire to be like him."

Leni Stern

"Michael and I are very sad. We will miss him so much.

""Charlie Banacos helped me to organize my musical concepts. I always have a lot of ideas. Charlie's mind works like no other. He sees structure where I see chaos. He is a genius. He always gave me composition homework. Many of my tunes are based on his principles.

"I started studying with Charlie when I first came to America from Europe. He had a way of untangling the mysteries of jazz for everybody, especially his students from other countries that didn't grow up listening to jazz. His teaching was very personal. I remember asking him once about an exercise he had given to Michael and he said: Why do all my students want to know what I teach the other students? It's like trading prescriptions from a doctor! I kept studying with him for many years after moving to New York. I would send my latest recording and ask for my prescription. He was always encouraging, amazingly creative and very, very accurate. I will miss Charlie so much."

Joey Calderazzo

"I did take a few lessons from Charlie. I paid him for a series of three lessons. I only managed to take two of them. It's funny though. I use the little things from the lessons every night. Due to my touring and over all laziness, I never took the last lesson. We had an ongoing joke that I was his best student, and that he owed me this lesson, meanwhile—this was 10 years later. He was truly a funny guy and a hell of a teacher."

Wayne Krantz

"The best jazz teacher I've ever known.

"He mostly affected how I practice. From him I got the idea that anything musical can be broken down into something that can be practiced efficiently, no matter how nebulous it seems initially. That's what enables me now to feel like I'm developing continually under my own steam, following my ideas where they'll lead me.

"I'd heard about Charlie for years from friends who were studying with him. I got on his waiting list and about a year later his secretary called to schedule a lesson time. This would have been around 1980. When I finally met him I was shocked that he was so young. I had assumed such a legendary teacher would have to be much older. He seemed like a kid, inside and out. A kid with the vast musical comprehension of a master. Not that he would ever dwell on that fact for even one second—he was too busy focusing on the student and the work that needed to be done.

"I was with him for a year. We went through his exercises which, amazingly, summarized jazz history up to that point. Like all his students I worked hard, harder than ever before. I'd just graduated from music school but had never been inspired like that. His students trusted him and were willing to scale whatever mountains he pointed us to. We didn't want to let him down. I used to love hearing him in the lessons, he was such a fantastic pianist. And if he got excited by something I played I really took it to heart.

"Charlie taught me how to practice. His methods inspired me to come up with an approach of my own that would face the math and follow the muse, like his did. But all that happened later. At the time I was too busy logging the insane hours necessary to cover his workload.

"A few years after studying with him I was stuck in purgatory in Boston, doing silly gigs and getting nowhere. One day I heard a message on my machine—it was Charlie. 'Hey Waaaaayne, hey Waaaaayne,' he said. 'Move to New York, man! You gotta get out of here, man!! Go to New York!!' I hadn't talked to him in ages, I don't know how he knew what I was going through. But I more or less packed my bags the next day and got the hell out of there. Another thing to thank him for.

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