Friday, December 11, 2009

Charlie Banacos - farewell to an extraordinary teacher

Charlie Banacos’ passing this week is an immense loss to the jazz community.   He was a valued teacher of many fine players.  Here is a link to his obituary which appeared in the Boston Globe.

Two years ago, I took correspondence lessons with Charlie, for a full year, via cassette tape. Our relationship was unique in that I never met Charlie face to face.  Perhaps because of this, we could be very honest and frank with one another in our taped dialogues.  His candidness was valued and refreshing in both his assessments of my improvisations and in his responses to my stated opinions, questions and challenges.  His initial summary of my playing changed my thinking forever.  He said “You already sound great, BUT when I hear you play it sounds like something that happened 40 years ago.”  Wow! …talk about a wake up call!  He nailed it.  As someone who had spent the past two decades checking out the recorded traditions of bebop and hard bop piano playing, I needed someone to tell me the truth: that it was time to move on, and open my mind and improvisational approach to new possibilities.

Another memorable moment was our exchange regarding Eric Dophy.  I expressed some hesitation when Charlie suggested that I thoroughly examine Eric Dolphy’s linear approach.  His response was again frank: “I realize that you have trouble right now hearing the stuff that Eric Dolphy is doing.  That’s obvious based on the lines that you already play.”  His persistence led me down a very interesting path of discovery.

I grew tremendously through these lessons and had intended to resume study with him this summer.  Unfortunately, that won’t happen.  I hope that at some point his lessons are compiled and published.  He was one of the few teachers under who I have studied that had exhaustive, tested methods.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him.