Senator Tommy Banks
for the Musicians' Portrait Project.
The Honourable Tommy Banks is a pianist, conductor, arranger, composer, TV personality, actor, producer, politician; he was born in Calgary in 1936. He received an honorary diploma of music (Grant MacEwan College) 1979, an honorary LLD (University of Alberta) 1987. He studied piano as a child and began his career at 14 in the band of the jazz saxophonist Don Thompson. Banks was music director of the Orion Musical Theatre in Edmonton between 1954 and 1958; he also led his own groups in performances in western Canada and the USA. He accompanied many pop performers between 1960 and 1968 as a pianist or orchestra conductor in Edmonton, rising to the forefront of pop music in Alberta and becoming a major force in western Canada. In 1967 he led a jazz quintet at Expo 67 and produced and directed the first of several Klondike Follies for Edmonton's Klondike Days. He was host, pianist, arranger, and conductor for 'The Tommy Banks Show,' a TV talk show from 1968 to 1974 and again between 1980 and 1983 on CBC TV and from 1974 to 1976 in syndication originating from CITV, Edmonton. He also starred on 'Celebrity Revue,' a TV variety series produced in Vancouver for syndication in the late 1970s, and acted in dramatic roles in NFB and feature film productions.
Tommy Banks was the co-ordinator (and occasional guest conductor) of Edmonton Symphony Orchestra pop programs featuring such performers as Vicki Carr, Aretha Franklin, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Tom Jones, filmed by CITV for syndication throughout North America. He filled a similar role in the late 1970s for a series starring the French composer Michel Legrand with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the US singer Jack Jones with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. He also was guest conductor of the Edmonton, Hamilton, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Vancouver symphony orchestras, and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, usually in pop concerts. Banks served as music director for ceremonies attendant to the Commonwealth Games (1978) and the World University Games (1983) in Edmonton, as well as for the opening of Expo 86 and for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988.
In jazz, Banks was heard in the 1970s on the CBC's 'Jazz Radio-Canada' with his jazz quartet, with his big band, and occasionally as a host. The big band, featuring Clarence 'Big' Miller, P.J. Perry, and others, performed at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland; a double LP of its concert there won the Juno Award as jazz recording of 1978. In 1983 a Banks quintet travelled to Japan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, and became the first foreign jazz group to tour in the Peoples' Republic of China. During the 1980s Banks also appeared in a variety of settings at Jazz City - e.g., with his big band in 1980, with Big Miller in 1981, accompanying Anita O'Day in 1985, and with the Jazz City All Stars in 1987. As a member of the New Orleans Connection he toured Canada and Europe during the early 1990s. He continued to conduct his own big band until 2003.
Tommy Banks wrote or arranged music for the big band and composed the musical fantasies The Lady That's Known as Kate and The Gift of the Magi (heard on the CBC and subsequently performed again by the Edmonton and Regina symphony orchestras), and the score for the CBC production of Pierre Berton's Klondike. He also wrote and produced recordings of many jingles, and conducted orchestras for recordings by such singers as Ed Evanko, Big Miller, and Judi Singh, and for many rock and country artists and groups. He was renowned for both his skill and speed as an arranger.
Various Banks groups are heard on albums made between 1962 and 1977 for the CBC's live and recorded music broadcast series and Banks himself recorded with P.J. Perry, and in the 1990s recorded new albums (including his first solo piano album) on his own Century II label, distributed by Royalty Records. The latter company also re-issued At The Montreux Jazz Festival. Banks remained active 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.
Between 1978 to 1986, Banks was chairman of the Alberta Foundation for the Performing Arts (which established the Tommy Banks Award for school band directors,) and from 1983 to 1987 of the music program at Grant MacEwan College, Edmonton. From 1989 to 1995 he was a member of the Canada Council, and then its policy adviser between 1996 and 1998. The recipient of the 1990 Sir Frederick Haultain prize and a 1992 Gemini Award, he has been recognized by numerous other organizations. Banks was made an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1991, and inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 1993.
-- from the Canadian Encyclopedia ( http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=U1ARTU0000193 )