Banks wants music to do the talking

Tommy Banks might well be “The Honourable,” but don’t call him senator — at least not in connection to his music.

Tommy Banks plays events of every size

Tommy Banks plays events of every size

Tommy Banks might well be “The Honourable,” but don’t call him senator — at least not in connection to his music.

“I’d appreciate that,” said the renowned Canadian pianist, who plays on Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Sylvan Lake Jazz at the Lake Festival.

Banks makes it clear that he doesn’t like to trade on his senatorial connection when it comes to promoting his performing career.

And why in the world would he have to?

The Edmonton-based musician who just conducted two Canada Day concerts with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, has been a pianist, conductor, arranger, composer, TV personality, actor and producer of note long before he was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 2000.

In fact, it seems as if Banks has been a part of virtually every notable Canadian event — from Expo ’67 at which he led a jazz quintet, to Expo ’86 and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, in which he was involved in the opening and closing ceremonies.

Among his many achievements over the years was winning a Juno Award for his big band’s LP of a live performance at the 1978 Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. He’s also won a Gemini Award, a SOCAN special achievement award for contributions to Canada’s music industry, and was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Besides being made an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1991, Banks has been paid the ultimate compliment of having a street in Edmonton named after him — Tommy Banks Way.

Banks is now looking forward to retiring from the Senate in December so he can spend more time touring with his musical interests.

He said the Sylvan Lake Jazz Festival is the only big event he’s managed to fit into this summer with his trio, which includes his longtime collaborators, Cliff Minchau on bass and Tom Duran on drums.

“I’m very much looking forward to doing the festival. (Organizers) have done a terrific job of building it up from almost starting from zero,” Banks added, noting the great turnout each year.

He was born 74 years ago in Calgary but moved to Edmonton in 1949.

Banks studied piano as a child and began his career at age 14 in the band of jazz saxophonist Don Thompson. After taking on the director’s job at the Orion Musical Theatre in the mid-1950s, he led his own groups in tours across Western Canada and the U.S.

Banks also hosted a radio show on CKUA called The Solo Piano of Tommy Banks in about 1960. And starting in 1968, he hosted CBC’s long-running TV talk show, The Tommy Banks Show.

A decade later, Banks starred in the Celebrity Revue TV variety series and acted in several projects for The National Film Board.

As for his career in music, he was frequently heard on the CBC Radio during the 1970s with his jazz quartet, big band and occasionally as host. In 1983, Banks’s quintet became the first foreign jazz group to tour in China. Later that decade, he appeared with the Jazz City All Stars and as a member of the New Orleans Connection, touring Canada and Europe.

He continues to arrange songs and to perform for audiences across Canada. “There are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. I like good music,” said the pianist, who promises fans will hear “jazz-related” songs and standards when he performs at the festival.

The Tommy Banks Trio plays at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Alliance Church at 4404 47th Ave. in Sylvan Lake. Tickets are $35 from

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