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Charlie Banacos: Recollections of a Legend

By Published: January 28, 2010

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It may be hard to believe but this music as we know it would not be the same without the influence of one Charlie Banacos. In one way or another, he is a part of all of us now and he'll live on in our all we do.

The anecdotes are legend and far too numerous to list here. Among them: When guitarist Mike Stern showed his employer, Miles Davis, some of Banacos' ear-training exercises, Davis stated "I know that Banacos. Give me his telephone number. I'm gonna get me some lessons."

Michael Brecker, another student, once said of Banacos "He's some kind of genius."

Some Quotes from Banacos' Lessons with Joe Reid

Charlie's Gems:

  • "If you play with your fingers, you're dead"

  • "The fingers are passive"

  • "The body doesn't want to stop"

  • "The body doesn't like angles"

  • "Row the boat"

  • "You feel like a diver by the side of a pool, ready to jump"

  • "Play with your arms, not your fingers"

  • "Of course it's difficult; that's why they call it an etude"

  • "Ear training—it's Zen, not Aristotelian"

  • "Gain purchase"

  • "Don't measure" (as you practice ear training—hear it all at once)

  • "Piano technique—it's Aristotelian, not Zen"

  • "Each note has its own shape as it goes by, like you're driving by the planets"

  • "Keep your fingers near the keys, and don't be afraid to raise your wrist"

  • "Don't change the exercises"

  • "It's a coordination problem"

  • "Just because you don't speak like MLK doesn't mean you shouldn't talk"

  • "Think of the numbers, not hand positions"

  • "Circles, Squares, Triangles -separate them" i.e. one idea after the next, not on top"

  • "Plan your practicing, or you will be overwhelmed"

  • "Use all the tensions on the lines; use all the figurations for each voicing"

  • "It doesn't matter what finger you use"

  • "Think like a drummer, using space and range"

  • "Close your eyes and sit in the audience watching and listening"

  • "Re: sight reading—it's a craft, not an art"

  • "Oh, and do it in all twelve keys." Kill!

  • "Divisive rhythm/additive rhythm"

  • "Elephant with a stick in his trunk" (using it as a guide as you walk/play).

  • "He's [insert name here e.g. Mingus, Jerry B. etc.] whacked, but he can play"

  • "Deep into the keys" (toward the center of the earth and toward the fallboard)

Charlie Quoting the Masters:

  • "It's not technique, its timing" —Oscar Peterson
    Oscar Peterson
    Oscar Peterson
    1925 - 2007

  • "Practice without accents" —Oscar Peterson

  • "The body is a rock; the arms are snakes" —Claudio Arrau

  • "All notes are 'up' notes" —Martha Argerich

  • "Feel the Ground" —Anton Rubinstein

  • "It's all about circles" —Chick Corea

  • "Think of elephants, giraffes and hippos as you play" —Bill Evans

  • "C fingerings in all keys" —Franz Liszt

  • "Giant Steps solo in all keys" —George Coleman
    George Coleman
    George Coleman
    sax, tenor

  • "Music is Technique"—Nadia Boulanger

  • "Practice for the performance" —Chick Corea

  • "You must be a good draftsman before you can be a great painter" —Bill Evans

  • "Practicing is pushing a wall—you wake up the next day the wall has moved" —Bill Evans

  • "Don't force the keys" —Art Tatum
    Art Tatum
    Art Tatum
    1909 - 1956
    (to Red Garland
    Red Garland
    Red Garland
    1923 - 1984

  • "Each time is different"—Artur Schnabel, upon practicing the same phrase 200 times

  • "Three hours before breakfast" —Mike Stern

  • "Enslavement to the notation" —Craig Taubman

  • "Nothing difficult about it—just hit the right keys at the right time" —J.S. Bach

  • "You can't be unhappy and be learning something new at the same time" —Merlin

Memorial donations may be made to "Cancer Research," c/o MGH Development Office, 165 Cambridge St., Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114

Did you study with Charlie Banacos? If so, post your experiences and memorable quotes here.

Photo Credits

Harvie S: C. Andrew Hovan

Wayne Krantz: Rogan Coles

Bruce Gertz: Courtesy of Bruce Gertz

John Novello: Courtesy of John Novello

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