Las Vegas Sun

November 14, 2018

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Cancer claims prominent jazz musician Banks at 78

In high school, Buddy Banks quit playing the clarinet because it bothered his sinuses.

He took up the piano and later became a promising saxophonist. But when the U.S. Army Band needed a bass player for World War II European performances, 18-year-old Banks stepped in and the rest was jazz history.

Alvin "Buddy" Banks, who became a leading accompanist, performing and recording with legendary artists Sarah Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and Buddy Rich, died Sunday in Las Vegas of pancreatic cancer. He was 78.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 12 years will be 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City. Viewing will be from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Desert Memorial Cremation and Burial Society, 1111 Las Vegas Blvd. North.

"Buddy had a perfect memory and knew many tunes -- a great ear player," said Las Vegas orchestra leader Benny Bennet, who first met Banks in Paris in 1947 when Bennet, a jazz drummer at the time, was sitting in the audience of a late-night jazz hangout watching Banks perform.

"Buddy was performing at the Mars Club as the bassist for the Art Simmons Trio. Buddy was excellent in the support role. He also was one of the sweetest guys in the world. He cared about people and he cared about friendships. There was not a mean streak in any of his bones."

In the early 1950s, Banks became a leading bebop musician in Paris, where he was the leader of the Jazz de Chambre orchestra.

Also, at that time, Banks recorded several albums with jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Among jazz aficionados, he became famous for his bass solo on the jazz classic "Yesterdays."

Banks, whose favorite tune to play on piano and bass was "Body and Soul," moved to Las Vegas with his family in 1993, where he performed with trumpeter Jay Cameron and other local musicians.

In Southern Nevada, Banks worked primarily at small, intimate venues, including the Pepper's Club and Paddy's Pub as well as at Gatsby's at the MGM Grand and the Continental, which today is Terrible's hotel.

Born Jan. 15, 1927, in St. Thomas, Ontario, he was the youngest of three children of railroad chef Grover Cleveland Banks and the former Daisy Young, a pianist who had great influence on Buddy's music, his family said.

At age 7, Banks taught himself how to play his mother's piano. After graduating from Burgard High School in Buffalo, N.Y., Banks went into the Army.

After the war, Banks left the service but remained in Europe, studying at the Paris Conservatoire on the G.I. Bill. There, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in music.

Banks joined the Air Force in 1956 and was sent to Hawaii, where he became director of the Air Force Band and the Hickham Air Force Base Band.

After leaving the service for good in 1968, Banks took a job as a marine machinist at the Pearl Harbor shipyard, a job that he held until 1985.

He continued his music career during his off-hours as a member of the Honolulu Symphony and as a replacement bassist for area bands.

Also in Hawaii, Banks, for a while, set aside his bass and, as a singer, performed with Stanley Morgan's Ink Spots. Banks was known for his vocal rendition of the Nat King Cole classic "Straighten Up and Fly Right."

He was a member of the Honolulu and Las Vegas chapters of the American Federation of Musicians and the Elks of Honolulu and Las Vegas.

He is survived by his wife, Irene Cheney Banks; a son, Alan Banks; a stepson, Kealoha Cheney; a sister, Jean Daniel, and a granddaughter, Alana Banks, all of Las Vegas; and two nephews, Dennis Daniel of Las Vegas and Rodney Daniel of Buffalo.

He was preceded in death by a brother, Leo Banks.