January 26, 2018 1:47 am
Updated: January 26, 2018 8:40 am

Edmonton jazz pianist and former senator Tommy Banks dies

WATCH ABOVE: Former senator and legendary Edmonton jazz pianist Tommy Banks has passed away at the age of 81, his family confirmed Thursday night. Quinn Ohler has more on the legacy he leaves behind.


Former senator and legendary Edmonton jazz pianist Tommy Banks passed away at the age of 81, his family confirmed Thursday night.

Banks was revered around the world as a pianist, conductor, arranger, composer, television personality and former senator. He’s been described as a national treasure and a jazz icon.

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“It is with tremendous sorrow that the family of Tommy Banks announces his passing,” the musician’s family said in a written statement. “Mr. Banks died peacefully on Jan. 25, 2018 surrounded by his loving family and the gracious staff of the Grey Nuns palliative care unit.

Banks was born on Dec. 17, 1936 in Calgary and grew up in Edmonton.

He made his musical debut in 1950 when he was just 14, touring with saxophonist Don (D.T.) Thompson. After that, he played jazz throughout North America, Western and Central Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

READ MORE: Juno nod for Tommy Banks marks jazz great’s first nomination in 37 years

He was a Juno and Gemini Award winner, an Officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Alberta Award of Excellence. He also received several ARIA Awards, and was a member of the Edmonton Cultural Hall of Fame.

He played for Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Watch below: In this June 2014 interview, Gord sits down with Tommie Gallie and Tommy Banks. A new musical foundation is recognizing blues artists past and present. 

Banks was musical director for half a dozen international sporting events, including the Calgary Olympics and the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton.

In 1983, his quintet became the first jazz band to tour in continental China since the 1949 revolution.

Banks was the host of nationally and internationally syndicated and network television programs, including: The Tommy Banks Show (1968-1983 ITV/Global Edmonton), What’s My Name, Celebrity Revue, Symphony of a Thousand, and Tommy Banks Jazz, to name a few.

Watch below: In this November 2013 interview, Senator Tommy Banks tells Gord about what the Senate has accomplished, and also fills us in on his latest musical endeavours.

Banks continued as producer and pianist for various performers until 2000, when he was appointed to the Senate of Canada and began to concentrate on political responsibilities. He represented Alberta, sitting as a Liberal. In the Senate, he served as a member of the Standing Committee on National Finance, the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence (SCONSAD).

READ MORE: Canadian music legend Tommy Banks reflects on 20 years of Winspear Centre 

He continued to conduct his own big band until 2003.

In 2010, he was the recipient of SOCAN’s special achievement award for his contributions to Canada’s music industry and musical heritage.

In 2017, a rare Tommy Banks & Big Miller recording was released as a fundraiser for the Edmonton Jazz Society.

Watch below: In this February 2016 interview, Tommy Banks talks about his live jazz album Legacy Live, which is up for Instrumental Album of the Year. 

Friends and fellow musicians remember him as a gentle spirit, warm and someone who always had time for his fans. The beloved jazz musician was also was known as a “road warrior” in music circles for his intense touring schedule that continued into his 80s.

Banks leaves behind wife Ida, son Tom Banks, daughter Jill Chipman, son-in-law Kevin Chipman, granddaughter Jenna Banks, grandson Matthew Chipman, grandson Thomas Banks Jr., and granddaughter Mallory Chipman who is a jazz singer.

The family told Global News a celebration of Banks’ life will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Tommy’s family thanks you for respecting their privacy at this time and wishes peace to all who were touched by Tommy and his legacy.”

Many Canadians were tweeting about Banks on Thursday night after learning of his death. You can read some of the tweets below.


— With files from Global’s Emily Mertz



© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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