Charlie Banacos on Jazz Pedagogy

If you’re like me, you’re probably not familiar with Charlie Banacos. An influential jazz educator, he withdrew from performing in favor of focusing on his teaching. He stated:

Music for me is like religion. In every religion there are the preachers who are touring all over the world to preach about religion, and the monks, who sit in a basement, practice for themselves, and teach others. I am the monk.

My first exposure to the work of Banacos comes from David Carlos Valdez’s excellent blog, Casa Valdez Studios. A couple of months ago Valdez posted some information and links about Charlie Banacos. Included in his post is a link to a dissertation by Lefteris Kordis called “Top Speed and in All Keys”: Charlie Banacos’s Pedagogy of Jazz Improvisation. Kordis goes over the different types of exercises Banacos would assign to his students.

The exercises cover nine facts of technique and musicianship–which I have organized in Sections A – I. In Section A, three popular ear-training exercises plus a meditation practice are presented. These exercises are useful for the development of various aural skills, such as relative pitch, perfect pitch, and intonation. In Section B, ten prominent exercises for instrumentalists/vocalists are listed, which focus on enriching improvisation skills, expanding melodic, harmonic, and temporal vocabulary, and improving technique. Section C includes a list of names of voicing exercises for chording instruments, such as piano and guitar.

Banacos taught composition to a variety of instrumentalists and singers. In Section D are some composition exercises he assigned, some of them based on Joseph Schillinger’s System of Musical Composition. Section E features four prominent exercises for rhythm, and Section F, three exercises for sight-reading/sight-singing. Banacos’s explanations for practicing the assigned repertoire, as well as for overcoming technical limitations, are listed in Section G. Some of the exercises included in this section were intended to further enhance instrumental technique. Section H illustrates Banacos’s approach to building repertoire, which consists of jazz standards as well as classical piano works.

I haven’t gotten through the whole paper yet, but it looks excellent and should be valuable for teachers and players alike. While I’m at it, please go visit Casa Valdez Studios for an excellent blog for jazz musicians and saxophonists.


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