Obituary: Dick Bank

Fresh Sound's Jordi Pujol remembers the prickly but prolific Californian record producer, a friend and collaborator for over twenty years

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Record producer Dick Bank

The first time I heard the name Dick Bank must have been around 1992, and it came about in a somewhat peculiar way. I was going about my business one morning, when my friend and colleague the late Mike Baillie, came to me and told me with the most English politeness he could muster that he was very sorry for my troubles with Nippon Columbia in Japan. That he did not mean to intrude, but he had just read about it a letter to the editor of Jazz Journal sent by a Mr. Dick Bank and felt he had to say something.

I was puzzled because I had no beef with Nippon Columbia that I knew of, or with any other company in Japan for that matter, and I didn’t know Mr. Bank from Adam. I was annoyed at the letter, mainly because I did not understand why someone would choose to make something like that up. I brushed it off, time went by, but I never forgot his name: Dick Bank.

If what I just told you seems outlandish, the way he reappeared in my life was no less bizarre. A few months later I was in LA meeting with Frank Strazzeri and Bill Perkins at Frank’s place in Sun Valley. At one point in our conversation I heard them mention the name “Dick Bank”. I asked about him, told them about his letter to JJ, and Frank offered to call him right then and there. Needless to say Dick was not expecting my call, at all.

After I had introduced myself and explained why I was calling him he started apologising, and told me it was a well-known record dealer who had told him there was a lawsuit against Fresh Sound. It goes without saying that we argued for a bit about the letter, but the matter was settled after in a few minutes. I’m not one to hold grudges, so we agreed to meet for supper, and I suggested Tony Roma’s – “A Place for Ribs,” a nice place in Encino, on Ventura Blvd. Frank and Bill came too – it was good fun. From that day on, Dick and I became close friends. It still amazes me that such a long-lasting friendship can come from such an absurd misunderstanding.

I was stunned when he passed. I knew he was sick, and it was bound to happen soon, but I still wasn’t ready. We worked together for 20 years, and he produced 27 excellent CDs before retiring in 2014. Although we argued often, it was just part of our relationship, and in the end we always resolved our differences. Actually, they were like the typical arguments between father and son. I had this feeling often when I thought of him, or when we were together.

During my frequent trips to L.A., we used to meet in Santa Monica restaurants for lunch or dinner, always near Brentwood, where he lived. He always arrived in his blue Volvo 240, wearing casual clothes and followed by a black Labrador he had named “Zoot” after his favorite tenor saxophonist, of course. They had become inseparable since 1990, and he was witness to all the recording sessions his owner organised until his passing in 2003. Zoot’s death was a hard blow for Dick, who never got over it. He tried though, and adopted another Labrador and called him “Count”, as a tribute to Conte Candoli, but the hole that “Zoot” left could never be replaced. Still, like his predecessor, Count was a regular at the recording studios until he died in 2013.

It took a few years before he told me to visit him at home. Unfortunately, these last four years we could never meet outside his place, because he could hardly walk. His head was clear as always, and up to two years before he died he was still driving around by himself. “When you come, bring a salami pizza from Fresh Brothers”, he would tell me.

I was with him on the phone on January 11, a little over a month before his passing, and as always we talked for a long time. At the start I felt like he was better than the last time we had spoken, shortly before Christmas, but at the end he sounded sad and tired. I said we would see each other when I came to Los Angeles before summer, and he said “I’m feeling much better now and look forward to seeing you on your next visit”, but he didn’t seem so sure… A few weeks later, on the evening of February 23, he died at home, and as far as I know, it happened quickly and without pain.

We lived through so many things together that I have a hard time believing I won’t see Dick again, or hear his voice. He was an honest man, of strong character, sincere and much more than a good friend. He was a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Time will go on, but I’ll never forget him. I know Jan Lundgren (who did 10 albums for FSR) feels the same, and so does designer Heidi Frieder, who working with Dick grew very close to him, as well as the long list of musicians and professionals in the Los Angeles music business who worked with him, including sound engineers Talley Sherwood, Joe Sidore, Bernie Grundman, Bones Howe and the late and unforgettable Jim Mooney, who were responsible for most of his productions. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the jazz writers who collaborated with him, such as Alun Morgan, Scott Yanow and Doug Ramsey.

Sometimes his strong character was softened, and a more humane Dick Bank came through. It used to happen after some of our conversations; it was in those relaxed moments that he liked to tell me that the fruit of our collaboration was providing him the happiest years of his life, and that through Fresh Sound he had the opportunity and freedom to do what he wanted, how he wanted to do it. This made me proud, because I could feel his happiness and emotion when he said it. Each album of his was like a birth, and as is the case for each parent, his children were the best. He didn’t say it just because, he said it because he was totally convinced, and that was obvious not only in the music itself, but also in his extensive and interesting liner notes and carefully elaborated booklets.

I keep hundreds of his faxes. No one has ever sent me as many – and as long – as he did. Sometimes I was afraid to read them, because his instructions were always so specific and precise that they did not admit mistakes or misunderstandings. Fax and telephone were his favourite methods of communication, he always refused to use the computer and e-mail.

He’ll be forever in my heart, and so will all the wonderful jazz albums he produced for Fresh Sound over the years. A true legacy of jazz. He knew what he wanted to get out of each session: he had it all in his head, and it was impossible to make him change his mind. So his work was authentic, uncompromising and without concessions. A work of love and rigour that we can always enjoy, the most beautiful of mementos.

These days he’s in my mind, because on August 27 he would have turned 91, and I think in a way he was fortunate to die right before the pandemic. I think of him often. He has been an important person in my life, irreplaceable, and it saddens me to think he’s no longer there.

His Fresh Sound albums:
FSR-5002 Dick Hafer “Prez Impressions” (1994)
FSR-5006 Jack Nimitz “Confirmation” (1995)
FSR-5007 Jan Lundgren “Stockholm Get-Together!” (1994)
FSR-5010 Bill Perkins “Perk Plays Prez” (1995)
FSR-5011 Herb Geller “Playing Jazz” (1995)
FSR-5012 Bud Shank “Plays The Music Of Bill Evans” (1996)
FSR-5014 Claude Williamson “Live At The Jazz Bakery” (1995)
FSR-5015 Conte Candoli “Portrait Of A Count” (1996)
FSR-5018 Herb Geller “You’re Looking At Me” (1997)
FSR-5019 Jan Lundgren “Cooking! At The Jazz Bakery” (1996)
FSR-5023 Lanny Morgan “A Suite For Yardbird” (1997)
FSR-5024 Frank Collett “Perfectly Frank” (1997)
FSR-5025 Jan Lundgren “California Connection” (1996)
FSR-5026 Bud Shank “After You, Jeru” (1998)
FSR-5028 Conte Candoli “Conte-nuity” (1999)
FSR-5030 Hod O’Brien “Have Piano … Will Swing!” (1999)
FSR-5032 Arne Domnerus “Dompan!” (2000)
FSR-5036 Hod O’Brien “Fine And Dandy” (2000)
FSR-5037 Andy Martin “It’s Fine … It’s Andy!” (2001)
FSR-5038 Pete Jolly – Jan Lundgren Quartet “Collaboration” (2001)
FSR-5040 Jan Lundgren “Will You Still Be Mine?” (2003)
FSR-5041 Frank Collett “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” (2004)
FSR-5043 Frank Collett “Music From The Movies” (2005)
FSR-5044 Andy Martin – Jan Lundgren Quartet “How About You?” (2006)
FSR-5048 Chuck Berghofer “Thanks For The Memory” (2008)
FSR-5050 Jan Lundgren “Together Again … At The Jazz Bakery” (2008)
FSR-5053 Jan Lundgren “All By Myself” (2014)
FSR-5055 Jan Lundgren “A Retrospective” (compilation)