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National Arts Centre Flags Fly at Half-mast in Honour of Jazz-Great Tommy Banks

The National Arts Centre (NAC) has lowered its flag at half-mast in memory of the legendary Canadian pianist and international conductor Tommy Banks, who has died at the age of 81.

Tommy Bank’s career spanned more than six decades and included performances with international celebrities including Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett. He was an avid supporter of other Canadian artists, equally nurturing young performers and working with the some of the most accomplished artists. The NAC Orchestra called on Tommy Banks to develop superb concerts over the years, including a collaboration with Ian Tyson and Corb Lund during the NAC’s Alberta Scene festival in 2005, Canada Day celebrations, and a tribute to the great Oscar Peterson in 2009 where he introduced a young Nikki Yanovsky to Ottawa. He most recently worked with the NAC Orchestra in 2016, in a concert with Canadian trumpeter Jens Lindemann, with whom he recorded the album Legacy Live which won a Juno in 2016.

“Senator Tommy Banks was an extraordinary man who maintained an active life as a jazz pianist, conductor and band leader, while serving Canada in the Senate,” said Peter Herrndorf, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre. “He was a great champion of Edmonton artists, and his legacy will continue in the next generation of musicians whose lives he impacted through his role as a founding member of the Alberta Foundation for the Performing Arts.Our sympathies go out to his family and to all his colleagues in the performing arts community.”


Banks was born on December 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. Banks remained loyal to his Edmonton roots, performing countless times at the legendary Yardbird Suite, one of Canada’s oldest jazz clubs. Tommy Banks recalled the excitement of the first night of club in an Edmonton Journal article marking the club’s 60th anniversary last year: “Originally it was just a session joint… a place where musicians could go after their commercial gigs to play the music they wanted to. Back then, it was run entirely by musicians and their wives or girlfriends. We divided up the work so one weekend it would be my turn to clean out the toilets. It wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for volunteers.”  Today, the Yardbird Suite is fittingly located at 11 Tommy Banks Way.

Tommy Banks 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.

With notes from Global News and The Edmonton Journal



Carl Martin
NAC Director of Communications (acting)
613-947-7000, ext. 560