Australian-born composer and multi-instrumentalist, trained on piano, saxophone, violin and trombone. The son of a jazz musician, he grew up and was educated in Melbourne. After serving with the Army Medical Corps during the war years, he studied at the University Conservatorium of Music and graduated with a diploma in composition. Banks moved to England in 1950 to continue his training under the Hungarian émigré Matyas Seiber, while supporting himself financially as a sideman in a dance band.
During the 1950’s, he composed a number of concertos and chamber music which attracted critical notice. He won several prestigious awards, including the Sir Arnold Bax Society Medal (1959). One of his works, ‘Four Pieces for Orchestra’ was performed by the London Philharmonic in 1954. Due in part to his father’s legacy, he also remained very much steeped in jazz, both as a player and as arranger. He became more prolific as a jazz composer after cultivating a friendship with Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. The resulting creative partnership spawned a series of works which fused classical music and jazz, including “Settings from Roget” (1966). He later created pieces like ‘Nexus’ (1971), for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra; and ‘Take 8’ (1973) for jazz and string quartet. Furthermore, Banks was at the cutting edge of combining traditional acoustic instruments with electronics, including using some of the first available synthesizers, eventually becoming a founding member of the British Society for Electronic Music.
Primarily for commercial reasons, Don Banks joined Hammer studios in 1962. He wrote several atmospheric scores for thrillers and horror films, working in tandem with musical directors Philip Martell and John Hollingsworth. Best among a body a body of diverse and polished works, are his jazzy, typically 60’s ‘film noir’ score for Hysteria (1965); his eerie, dramatic theme for Nightmare (1964), full of foreboding and hidden terror; and the equally evocative score for The Reptile (1966), with its predominant Indian motifs.
Banks left Hammer after five years to resume, what he regarded as more serious musical pursuits. In 1972, he returned to Australia to take up a position with the Canberra School of Music, followed thereafter by appointments to the music board of the Australian Council for the Arts and as head of composition to the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. Physically frail and afflicted for the last eight years of his life by leukemia, he died in September 1980, aged 56.