Virtuoso bassist Jeff Berlin recently wrote a letter to AllAboutJazz.com about the passing of his beloved teacher, Charlie Banacos, who died on December 8th after a battle with cancer. Jeff had actually made the move earlier in his career from New York to Boston in order to study under Banacos after hearing stories of the amazing music teacher. He recounts the many tough assignments that Charlie would give him, including advanced ear training and transcribing countless solos by players like McCoy Tyner, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Stitt. Even when they couldn’t meet for a lesson, Berlin would send cassettes of his playing to his mentor for criticism and always got back comments that helped him grow as a player and a person.
Berlin grew a lot from Charlie’s unique teaching methods. “Charlie’s brilliance was also in his ability of academic creation; he would design original and meaningful academic exercises the likes of which have never been created before. The breadth of variety of lessons and creations that he came up with was prolific. And many of these exercises changed my life. Based on chords, approach notes, and re harmonization, Charlie would give me lessons that some musicians didn’t touch upon with other teachers, ever.”