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Artist Profiles

Charlie Banacos: Recollections of a Legend

By Published: January 28, 2010

"We stayed in touch some over the years but I never saw him again. I studied with him by mail for a while when I was feeling lost. As I assume was the case with all his students, I would send him my records when they came out and he would always send handwritten letters back to me about them, all of which I kept and treasure. Only Charlie could have managed the discipline to do that on top of all his other commitments to students. The last one came just recently, I don't know if it was before or after the illness struck him. He didn't mention that.

"I gather Charlie had a strong family life, which offers some consolation for the disappointment we all feel about his life ending before it might have. He loved and he was loved, he inspired and he was inspired. That's as good as it gets, and Charlie, who knew everything, unquestionably knew that."

Danilo Perez

"Charlie Banacos was a brilliant teacher with an incredible awareness for the individual and unique needs of each student. He really inspired me, taught me to teach myself, and his sense of humor was uplifting. His capacity to look at humanity through the lens of music was admirable."

Lincoln Goines

"Charlie was an amazing musician and the teacher's teacher. I'm just beginning to figure out ways to apply some of the things he taught me in the brief time I studied with him."

Bruce Gertz

"I studied with him for six years from '82-'88 and took a couple lessons since then. For the past year-and-a-half my 16 year-old daughter was studying and we saw each other every week when I'd bring for the lesson. It was great to see him again. He looked great. You would never guess he was sick.

"He tried to graduate me twice back in the '80s but I didn't want stop the lessons. In my first lesson he assigned me to transcribe Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
's solo on 'There is No Greater Love' from [Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
' Four and More (Columbia, 1963). I practiced real hard because I respected him so much and wanted to do well. I got the solo down in a week on upright bass. Charlie used to like to tease people who didn't practice and Bill Pierce was studying at the same time. Bill had been on the road with Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
and missed some lessons. If you missed lessons and wanted to stay in Charlie's schedule it meant you must pay for every missed lesson. During my second lesson Bill knocked on the door to pay Charlie. He said, 'Come on man I want you to hear something man. Bruce is going to play the whole solo you were supposed to learn on string bass man ha!' Go ahead, Bruce. I played the solo and Charlie looked at Bill and said, 'See man, see what happens when you practice?'

"Because I am one of Jerry Bergonzi's closest friends, though not as long as is Charlie, he would always talk about Jerry. He mentioned a time when the neck of Jerry Kay's upright bass went through his windshield. At that time in the '60s, I believe they were playing strip clubs in Boston.

"That was before I knew either of them. I have a huge amount of notes from my lessons. Charlie would give you a line to practice that was so burning and challenging and hip. Then if he knew you were going to practice the shit out it he would draw a skull and crossbones on the page and say, 'If it hurts after awhile, stop and rest.' There are all these little extra notes on the page like a picture of a good and bad hand position. Next to the good picture it says' gooooood' or 'baaaaaad'!

"He would put four or up to six beams on something if he wanted you to get it down so you could play it fast. He would always play a I -V -I progression when he did ear training. After the cadence he would hit one, two, three or as many notes as you were working on. He used to be funny with the progression by playing a minor second top note of each triad and make it sound like The Twilight Zone. I heard him say, 'You'll never get it, never.'

"I have so much more to say. What a wonderful teacher and person he was. We all miss him. I have not had a full night sleep since he died.

"We're trying to set up some scholarships in his name and also present concerts with many of his students. He actually taught Mike Brecker, Mike Stern, Kenny Werner—even Miles tried to take lessons with Charlie."

Recollections/Reflections of Charlie Banacos from John Novello

Written on Dec 22, 2009 with tears of joy!

I arrived Boston in the early '70s to study at Berklee College of Music. No sooner was I there a few weeks, word came through social channels that I should call Charlie Banacos' office and ask to now be put on his year-long waiting list. I said really... a year long waiting list? When I inquired what all the fuss was about, I was told that he's the cat to study jazz improvisation with, which was one of the main reasons I left Erie, Pa., to travel to Boston to go to Berklee.

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