A Memorial titled “Tommy Banks – His Life and Legacy Remembered” is scheduled for Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at the Winspear Centre. The program begins promptly at 7:00 p.m.
December 17, 1936- January 25, 2018
It is with profound sadness that the family of Thomas “Tommy” Benjamin Banks announces his passing. After a brief struggle with leukaemia, Tommy died peacefully surrounded by his loving family on January 25, 2018.
Tommy started his life in Calgary, Alberta, later moving to Edmonton, the city that would become his beloved home and the place into which he poured his heart and musical soul. Inspired by two generations of musicians before him, Tommy’s passion for music took him out of school at a young age and put him on the road to a full fledged international career in music and entertainment. Throughout his professional life, Tommy contributed to all facets of the arts community in Edmonton and beyond. Canadians fondly remember his television programs from the 1970s and ’80s, his countless albums and CDs, as well as numerous appearances with symphony orchestras across North America. His commitment to the community was exemplified in his participation with a multitude of organizations such as CKUA, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Winspear Centre, and Wellspring Foundation.
Tommy was a proud Canadian. In 2000, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and in his role as senator he performed his duties nobly with great respect for his fellow Canadians. He represented his country graciously and with honour through his numerous endeavors, including the tours with his Juno Award winning big band through Europe, Asia, and North America; the composition of the opening ceremony music for the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, Commonwealth Games and Expo ’86; and his role in the Canadian Senate.
Though Tommy was a very humble man, his many contributions were acknowledged and recognized. He was awarded the Order of Canada, the Alberta Order of Excellence, an honorary Law Degree from the University of Alberta, the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize, a Juno Award, the SOCAN Special Achievement Award, and many others.
His creativity and love for his profession were only matched by his genuine love and unwavering dedication to his family. Tommy Banks, predeceased by his daughter Toby, is survived by his loving wife of 59 years, Ida; his son, Tom; his daughter Jill Chipman (Kevin); his grandchildren Mallory and Matthew Chipman, Thomas and Jenna Banks; his three brothers Jim (Helen), Terry (Mary), John; and his sister, Wendy Kingston (George).
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Tommy Banks Centre for Musical Creativity and Wellspring Edmonton. A memorial will be announced and held in the coming weeks. The family would like to extend a special thank you to those who have reached out during this difficult time, and to the doctors, nurses, and staff of the University of Alberta and Grey Nuns Hospitals.
Published in The Edmonton Journal on Jan. 30, 2018
Tommy Banks: Edmonton’s favourite son loved his city well
A renowned international musician, Banks loved Edmonton
Published on: January 26, 2018
As a red hot jazz pianist and internationally acclaimed conductor, Tommy Banks could have lived anywhere. But he loved Edmonton, and here he stayed.
A member of Canada’s Senate for 11 years, Banks, 81, died Thursday in the palliative unit of the Grey Nuns hospital. In a statement, his family said a public service of celebration will be held at a later date.
Since his death, tributes to his life have been coursing through social media and along traditional channels. World famous Los Angeles musician and producer David Foster tweeted, “The world has lost one of the true musical greats tonite, my mentor and dear friend, Senator Tommy Banks. A gentleman and a gentle man.”
Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree producer, band leader and musician David Cameron echoed the sentiment, noting that Banks was “one of the most amazing piano player and musicians that I ever met.”
“He had impeccable ears,” said musician Kent Sangster, the executive and artistic director of the TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival. “He could mimic and play styles extremely well because of that.
“In my capacity as an instructor at MacEwan, I brought him in to do a clinic, a composing class, and he said, ‘I’m not really a composer.’ He brilliantly arranged the music of others and was an idiomatic writer. He could write in the style and was able to provide the proper music at the proper time, whatever the function may be.”
The ability to know exactly what was required musically, and to make it happen, was part of Banks’ success as a musician, and a business person, say colleagues. He created a successful television series out of Edmonton featuring performances by the ultra-famous, including Tom Jones and Tina Turner, decades before Edmonton was known as a cultural hub. In fact, numerous local folks interviewed for this story credit Banks for being a founder of the city’s arts scene. Period.
“One of the things that Tommy is so admired for is his ability to create something where there was nothing before,” said University of Saskatchewan music professor and trumpet player Dean McNeill, who was a student at Grant MacEwan college when Banks was head of the music program there.
“He put the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on the map as one of the country’s premier pop orchestras of the 1970s. It helped people to know about Alberta in a way they would not otherwise have known.”
McNeill and others spoke of Banks’ contributions to making Edmonton and Alberta a magnet for investment, and for business growth. Banks and his wife, Ida, also invested their own money in the community, owning a booking agency, plus a white-tablecloth restaurant and night club, The Embers, as well as a bookstore for a time. Banks believed that wonderful things could happen in Edmonton, and he made it so.
Trumpet player Harry Pinchin, for 60 years one of Banks’ closest friends, bandmates and musical collaborators, said Banks was often given opportunities to move elsewhere, and to do something amazing there. Here’s what Banks said to those offers, “We’re going to do that, but we’re going to do it here.”
“We were the first people to perform on the air at ITV and launched the concert series that ran in over 100 countries of the world, and that was all Tommy. He was the guy,” said Pinchin. “And I think of that when I think of the early development of the Winspear Centre. He was the guy. Like Gretzky, someday, someone will break those records but at the moment I don’t see another Tommy Banks in this country.”
A precocious musician as a child, Banks began his professional career at 14 in the band of jazz saxophonist Don Thompson. By the age of 18, he was music director of the Orion Musical Theatre in Edmonton, and co-ordinator of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. At age 32, Banks was host, pianist, conductor and arranger for the Gemini Award-winning Tommy Banks Show, which ran until 1974, and again from 1980 to 1983.
In a 2016 interview with Postmedia, Banks credited his parents (his mother was Edmonton television personality Laura Lindsay) with trusting him enough to let him begin his touring career at a tender age. He remained grateful for the opportunity to entertain audiences locally and around the world for more than 65 years.
“Entertain may be the wrong word, but you always have to somehow attract and maintain the attention of the audience, whether you’re playing background music at a cocktail party or a concert at the Winspear,” he said. “Early on, I had to make the choice of whether to be an artist or a craftsman. I wanted to play music for a living. And every once in a while, craftspeople get to practise … art.”
He passed his craft, his art, on to his family, too. His granddaughter, Mallory Chipman, 23, is a jazz singer and instructor at MacEwan University. She says that while her grandfather was a huge supporter, he never pushed her until she had made up her own mind to pursue a career in music.
“It was special, because we had this family relationship, but also a professional and musical relationship,” says Chipman. “And as somebody who was obviously a very busy person and travelled the world doing what he loved so passionately, he also made so much time for family, always coming to my brother’s hockey games, to dinners at our go-to restaurants, the Bistro Praha and the Lingnan.”
Chipman sat beside her grandfather on the piano bench for the family’s yearly carolling tradition. He was her accompanist when she sang at the Kiwanis Festival as a little girl.
“People in the audience would be saying, ‘Is that Tommy Banks?’ But I never even thought about that. He was my grandpa.”
Born in Calgary, Banks was a passionate Edmontonian, volunteering large amounts of time to local musical projects, such as the Edmonton Concert Hall Foundation, which raised funds for the Winspear Centre, acting as its chair from 1989 to 1991. In gratitude, the city named a street after him, Tommy Banks Way, located near the Yardbird Suite jazz club, which he founded in 1957, and where he performed countless times.
As a founding member of the Alberta Foundation for the Performing Arts, Banks toiled to ensure promising local musicians received exposure across the country. He is remembered as a band leader who paid his people well, and on time, and made sure they had comfortable accommodation on the road.
Several people interviewed spoke of the way Banks “held himself.” In this, they meant he had a presence, and integrity.
“He would walk in a room and take it over in a good way,” recalls McNeill. “He’d say, ‘This is the way we are going to do things,’ but the way in which it would be done would be of benefit to everyone.”
McNeill recalls being a young musician who began adjudicating music festivals alongside Banks, and this made him very nervous. He recalls being given a small per diem for meals, and finding himself at breakfast one morning with Banks and other musical leaders.
“Tommy said, ‘Dean, you pick up the bill for breakfast.’ But then when supper came around, he’d say ‘I’ll get the bill.’ So I’d pick up the $30 breakfast, and he’d get the $300 dinner. It was emblematic of the way he would do things.”
One of Banks’ fans was Humberto Capriz, 55, an Italian immigrant who heard Banks play about 10 years ago at the Sutton Place Hotel. Not knowing he was famous, Capriz approached Banks afterward to express his gratitude for the music, and then saw him regularly in clubs thereafter. He says Banks (who later was honorary judge at Capriz’s citizenship ceremony) never talked about his accomplishments, but rather went out of his way to make Capriz feel that he had a place in Canada, and would do wonderful things here.
“I have lived in many cities but this is a great city with great people, and Tommy Banks always made me feel welcome and like there was opportunity for you here.”
A member of the Edmonton Hall of Fame, Banks won numerous, major musical and cultural awards in Canada, including a Juno and a Gemini, and worked with international celebrities from Aretha Franklin to Tony Bennett.
Banks was involved in many aspects of the cultural sector. He provided musical direction for the 1978 Commonwealth Games, Expo 86, the World University Games and the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. He produced and conducted command performances for numerous prestigious guests, including U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II. A member of the Canada Council from 1989 to 1995, Banks was an officer of the Order of Canada.
Getting older did little to slow Banks’ pace — he continued to play a busy range of dates nationwide. Maclean’s magazine observed: “It would be easier to list the things he doesn’t do.” As the Toronto Star once pointed out, Banks did “everything a musician could wish for.”
Diagnosed with leukemia in September, Banks was still on the road and playing professional gigs well into the fall. He is survived by his wife, Ida, described by granddaughter Mallory Chipman as “the light of his life.” The Banks had three children, Jill (who is married to Kevin Chipman), Tom Junior, and Toby, who died in 2001, and four grandchildren, Mallory, Matthew, Thomas and Jenna.