Piano World Home Page

Sad news about Charlie Banacos

Posted By: davefrank

Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/09/09 07:21 PM

the jazz community lost Charlie Banacos on Dec. 8th to cancer. His students and friends worldwide have lost a much loved and respected mentor, a true genius and advocate for jazz.

Dave Frank
Posted By: sgreene123

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/10/09 04:07 AM

Thanks for putting this up, Dave. I am truly saddened. I was so lucky to have Charlie as a teacher for these past 9 months, after waiting 4 years to get to the top of his waiting list. 30 years ago he was my teacher for about 4 months, and I can say with complete honesty that my playing improved more in those 4 months than the 4 years I spent at Berklee. Charlie was a true mentor, a champion of his students. Over the past months he made me feel really great about my progress even when I certainly did not see any. Every lesson was like a celebration. Charlie always shows what is possible on the piano at every lesson. I would play what I had prepared, then Charlie would push for the rest of the lesson. I routinely left feeling totally psyched after each lesson. This has come to an end way too soon for me and all of his students.
Posted By: Elssa

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/10/09 05:04 AM

Thank you for posting this. Charlie is my cousin Margaret's husband (married for nearly 40 years). It really is a tragedy for them and the music world.
Posted By: nitekatt2008z

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 04:26 AM

Very sad to hear about Charlie passing on. I have posted here a few times about my lessons with him and the jazz/bebop world has lost another gifted artist/mentor and teacher.

I am hoping that Charlie left us a CD of him playing standards, his comps or just jammin' away so we can have something to remember him by.

I just called one of my dorm mates from Berklee and let him know and we were on the phone for about an hour talking about our lessons with Charlie and how much he had helped us to develop into professional players.

Does anyone know what Charlie's birthday was or how old he was this year? Thanks but a sad time for all who had been his students. I think I'll pull out my Omni Book and jam on Charlie Park all night as a tribute to the master.

Posted By: davefrank

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 05:03 AM

Charlie's birthday was Aug. 15th, and he was 63 when he passed.

Dave Frank
Posted By: nitekatt2008z

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 08:15 AM

Not to say there aren't any great jazz improvisation teachers out in the world now, but Charlie was THE teacher to the teachers as well. Charlie had a method, an intuition, a way of getting on a level of a student no matter how advanced they were when they came in for their first lesson. He knew what they needed before the student even knew.

As I recall, Charlie's teachers were Jaki Byard, Lennie Tristano and Madame Chaloff. We had heard that when Charlie was younger and over practicing, Madam Chaloff got his technique together and he avoided injuries from RSS.

I also hope someone writes a book about Charlie, because he is someone definitely worthy of reading about his life, teaching methods, student experiences and many other things of interest about him.

And now the correspondence course he developed that had helped many of his students study while out on the road has come to an end.

When a teacher like Charlie has a reputation and respect among so many musicians who love studying jazz improvisation, waiting lists that get into months or even year long waits to get a spot for a private lesson, half hour when I was taking lessons, this is extraordinary. It fact it's so unique, it's rare that a teacher or mentor like Charlie could be so much in demand because of his genius, that students would move to the Boston area just to take lessons from him. I even heard of students flying in from parts of the world for a weekly lesson with THE MAN! Incredible!!

After my first 4 lessons with Charlie, my playing level went up to about 1000% literally because the guys I was jamming with commented on my improvement and how I was getting the results. The answer was Charlie and of course if they hadn't heard of him, then they got on his waiting list to meet their goals in jazz. Of course I also practiced the material like an obsession because now I had a teacher who taught me what and how to practice the new work.

BTW, I even remember what I played for Charlie when he wanted to hear where I was at. So the week before, I worked on a blues in C or G and thought I would go in and impress Charlie. Yeah right. I played, I was a bit nervous. Charlie said, "cool man" now play it in B. Huh..B? Ok, A, uh A? G#, Uh, how about Bb. I couldn't play blues in other keys at the time. I didn't even know much about bebop, but Charlie sat down at the piano and played this beautiful bebop line over a set of C Parker changes and I was impressed. I told Charlie, "I want to learn how to play like that." So, my training began at that time and I had lessons with Charlie several times, almost 2 years privately.

Another thing that Charlie's lessons helped me on was Bach, blues and even bits and pieces of cocktail piano. After I did my weekly demo of my lesson assignment and Charlie had "passed" me, if not, then repeat it until you got it together, then we would jam near the end of our time. When a teacher sits down next to the student as a guide, you really get the hands-on training the right way. I would play voicings and improvise, Charlie would play LH bass and also solo. Of course I couldn't match him, but I learned and things started sinking in. If there was time left, I would play a few bars of a standard I was struggling with like "Laura" and he would sit down, reharmonize it with the right, hip changes and burn on it like no tomorrow!!

When Charlie was teaching in Coolidge Corner in my Berklee years about 1973 as I recall, my weekly half hour lesson was 8AM Saturday morning!! And in the winter the temp was 10 below and my hands were still thawing out waiting for Charlie to open the studio. Of course I asked him if he had a later time and he said he was booked until midnight!! Yikes! 8AM to midnight and I knew his last student who took the midnight lesson. That's a lot of hours to teach and play the piano with students.

Charlie didn't use handouts for lessons, rather he required the student to bring in the same notebook each week and he would write the lesson plan in ink, by hand and what to do. Unfortunately, my Charlie bebop "Bible" is lost or missing and it's irreplaceable. Now that he's not with us, I want to find it somehow if it's possible, but after so many moves, very doubtful it will turn up.

My best to Charlie's family

Posted By: davefrank

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 02:08 PM

Thanks for that beautiful post, katt. I studied with Charlie for 20 years, in person for 17. He was the greatest person I ever met in my musical life. He helped me in every way, my personal life, health and of course music improved 100% with his guidance. He was a true Yoda, he knew the answer to every musical question I asked him for 20 years!! What a beautiful, funny guy, it was such great fun to see him every week.

His loss is a bitter pill to swallow, but what a blessing he was to us all.

Dave Frank
Posted By: nitekatt2008z

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 04:53 PM

Hey Dave. Yeah Charlie Banacos' spirit is with me every time I play a note on the keyboard. He helped me grow as a jazz musician to play, practice and think like a professional.

BTW, here is a link to his obituary with a recent photo I think of Charlie

Will you or someone Charlie "trained" continue to offer his correspondence courses or private lessons? Is that even possible? Charlie was a hard act to follow. Are you a jazz improv teacher as well?

So you were with Charlie 17 years privately! That must be a record! He must have taken you to the edge of the jazz universe. But man, Charlie was heavy, that guy had the knowledge plus he was a great piano player who could play anything. I hope a CD will be released of Charlie's playing and comps for all his students to have a remembrance. Please let us know if anything will come out in the future.

Thanks Dave for keeping us informed about Charlie Banacos


PS, here is an additional thread about Charlie's passing on allaboutjazz.com

Registered User

Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Central MA
Posts: 125

A message from the Banacos family
Dear friends,

We deeply regret the news we are about to tell you.

Charlie Banacos passed away last night, December 8th, just minutes after 8 pm. It was a very peaceful and quiet passing, and he was surrounded by loving members of his family.

As you know, his cancer was very aggressive. By the time he knew he had cancer his body was already significantly compromised by the disease. Unfortunately his body was already stressed and weakened before starting treatment and the chemotherapy stressed his body even more. Charlie had a much better chance to extend his life by trying chemotherapy and it was his choice to try everything possible. Even though we knew the cancer was advanced, we are so shocked by how quickly he passed. Monday morning the doctors said they expected him to be in rehab by the end of this week.

You should know that Charlie was of strong mind and in good spirits throughout his ordeal, and kept an unwavering positive attitude during the past few weeks. More than a few of the doctors and nurses commented on how much they enjoyed treating Charlie, for he was always quick with a joke and was determined to live each moment in a positive way.

I think most of you also sensed that besides his love for being funny, and all things goofy, he had a deep spiritual side and connection with God. He spoke very openly about dying. He was not afraid and he didn't want us to be afraid. The most negative thing he said over the last few weeks was 'What a drag!' When the doctor told him his diagnosis he said "Good job with your diagnosis. Looks like I'm headed for the last round-up!" The doctor looked at him, after seeing Charlie in pain for a week already without it ever affecting his emotional strength, and said "Charlie, you're a very strange man."

The many cards and e-mails brought Charlie much comfort over the past few weeks – and he was grateful for all of them. We found many of your well-wishes to be inspirational, and some provoked a few good laughs (we all know how much Charlie appreciated a good punch line). Many messages to Charlie were like variations on a theme: "How Charlie saved my life..." "How Charlie believed in me when no one else did..." "How Charlie lifted a great depression off of me..." "How Charlie made me feel like I was his only student..." It's nice to remember what Charlie once said in an interview, "Sometimes I get asked "Who's your best student?" or "Who's your favorite student?" and I always answer that it's the student I'm teaching at the moment." As a teacher and mentor, his students were very much a central part of his life. The lessons and music you shared brought great fulfillment to his life for many years, as you are all probably well aware. In many ways, you are like an extended part of his family, and he was deeply touched by your well-wishes. He would have loved nothing more than to continue teaching for many more years.

You may find comfort, as we've had, in the following story: Two weeks before Charlie was born, his mother had lost a 6-year-old son to cancer. Charlie always said that he and his mother had a very special bond. He came into her life to heal her pain and went through life as a healer in many ways. Two weeks ago, Charlie's mother of 94 years passed away. She lived with Charlie and his wife for over 20 years. (That's a lot of greek cookies!) We called her Yia Yia, greek for grandmother. A couple hours after her passing, a new nurse came in to see Charlie in his hospital room. She greeted him and told him she was there to take care of him. She said "If you need me, call for me. My name is Yia Yia." Charlie and his family found this event to be very mysterious and comforting.

We want you to know that we feel everything that could've been done to help Charlie was done. We had complete confidence in the team of doctors and nurses that cared for him. How touching it was for us that they even spent time by his side with our family before he passed. The nurse Yia Yia was there too.

While we are all greatly saddened by his loss, he’d call us all “nuts” if we sulked for too terribly long. It’s important to remember that his knowledge and teachings live on in all of us, and he’d undoubtedly want to see that put to good use. So “keep cookin, burn and kill!” and make each day your own masterpiece.

Charlie will be missed by us all. We will pass along information for calling hours once arrangements are finalized.

If there's anything else we can do for you, you can write to us at his email address charliebanacos@gmail.com. Just be aware we may receive many emails and our response time may be delayed, especially this week.

The Banacos family... Margaret, Peter, Jennifer, Barbara, Christina, Ross, Paul and Kristin
Freddels is offline Report Post Reply With Quote
Posted By: davefrank

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 05:48 PM

FYI, I'm a co-founder of the New York School of Jazz, was an Assoc. Prof. of Piano at Berklee for 17 years, and currently direct the Dave Frank School of Jazz in NYC. I teach students privately in person, do monthly free jazz masterclasses/concerts for the public and now teach students of all levels worldwide live through skype. I also studied with Lennie Tristano for 6 years, and am the author of Hal Leonard's best selling book and improv series, JOY OF IMPROV and BREAKTHROUGH TO IMPROV.


Posted By: Elssa

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/11/09 08:27 PM

I hope a CD will be released of Charlie's playing and comps for all his students to have a remembrance. Please let us know if anything will come out in the future.

I'll try to ask my cousin Margaret, Charlie's wife, if there will be something like that planned in the future. BTW, Charlie and Margaret met at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he was her teacher, and Margaret has had her own piano school in the area now for many years.

Thanks again to all for your great posts.
Posted By: Dave Ferris

Re: Sad news about Charlie Banacos - 12/19/09 08:32 AM

Sorry to hear the sad news. Someone sent me an email detailing his fight with cancer.

I wish I could say I benefited from Charlie's teachings, unfortunately I can only go by the many stories I 've heard from musicians that I've known from back East.

RIP Mr.Banacos.
© 2018 Piano World Piano & Digital Piano Forums