Charlie Banacos: Recollections of a Legend
That was so long away for me I simply forgot about it. After, of course, I did put my name on the golden list and then about 8 months later on a Saturday morning, I got awakened by a phone call from Charlie's office saying he had a slot opening today at 11AM and did I want it? Half asleep I somehow perceived the importance of this question and opportunity almost like I knew this was an important event in my music destiny!
I jumped out of bed and began immediately practicing for what I did not know which in hindsight demonstrated to me the altitude and reputation Charlie's work had. Of course there's no way one can cram last minute where you are as a musician. You are where your ears and chops are and true to form, Banacos found out where I lived in about three minutes after I had arrived and here's how that initial encounter went as, I'll never forget it.
The door opened at 11AM on a Saturday, 1973, not sure of the month, and Charlie let out the student before me and looked at me and said, "You must be John?" I said, "Yes," excitedly but apprehensively! On one hand I was hoping that this was the cat that could shed some light on the mystery of jazz lines and on the other hand I was sure he'd see right through me as far as where I was as a player. There were two upright pianos in the room against the wall and Charlie motioned me over to the first piano closest to the door and said, "Let's see what we have here."
I sat down with total stage fright and he said, 'OK, we're here to study jazz improv, right?' I said, 'Yes,' hesitantly. He said, 'OK, let's play a blues in B,' and before I could verbalize 'No way can I do that,' I heard 'one, two, three, four,' and off I was playing a blues in B with Charlie playing walking bass and compingkiller swing groove by the waywhilst I crashed and burned! After a couple of choruses Charlie stopped and said, 'No problem, you're just missing some ear training, rhythm and jazz line drills. Let's get to work!' He said this with so much caring and certainty that I instantly forgot my recent horrible performancemeaning my horrible two choruses on the blues in Band relaxed as I knew I was, not only in good hands but that I had also found the Avatar of jazz improv! How? A person just knows, man! The rest is history and was the most amazing journey of my life! I had only three teachers in my life that had such influence on my career and Charlie was the third and final one! I had found the Holy Grail man!!!
My studies with Charlie were so amazing and life changing, that had it not been for having to make a living, I could of easily stayed in Boston and simply been a student of Charlie's forever as he could ALWAYS take anybodyno matter how good a player they wereto a higher level!
The last thing he said to me, which I did not understand at the time, was "Hey John, remember: there's playing music and then there's the music business, man. Don't ever get them mixed up!!!" Boy did I learn that lesson the hard way!
Thanks Charlie! You are the BEST!!!
Your humble student,
"I also recall a time in the past year or so when Charlie's daughter, Barbara came to see Jerry and me at the Acton Jazz Cafe. She said we wanted to get Jerry and Charlie back together to play. When I was studying in the '80s, Jerry and I talked about recording with Charlie. At my lesson I sounded Charlie to record with Jerry and me. He said, 'Man, when I decide to record, you guys'll be the first ones I call.' I remember how honored I was that he included me. At that time I'd been studying around four years and we would mostly play duo at the lessons. He was such an amazing player. Too bad people other than his students won't get to hear that. He could emulate Chick [Corea], Herbie [Hancock], McCoy [Tyner], Keith [Jarrett], Red [Garland], Wynton [Kelly], you name it, and he had his own shit that was just killer!"
"I had a gig in Tel Aviv last night and someone told me about Charlie few minutes before I went on the stage. Man, I felt so sad I was not sure I can play. Lots of memories came to me, and you know what, I had one of my best playing ever!! He was not only a great teacher and a pianist but mostly an amazing human being, never met anyone like him. I study with him like a year maybe and developed a friendship with him and I admired him not only for his musicality but for his attitude, I saw him three weeks after his big brain surgery like 22 years ago, and he was so funny and took everything in such a humor and easy way that it was hard to understand.