In memory of Vic Vogel, a Montreal jazz legend

Canada said goodbye to a jazz legend this week following the death of master musician Vic Vogel. He was 84.

The pianist, conductor, composer, arranger and trombonist died on Monday morning at his home in Montreal next to his beloved Steinway piano, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Victor Stefan Vogel was born in 1935 and went on to be called “the patriarch of jazz in Montreal.” The colourful bandleader was a central figure of the city’s music scene and is credited with helping to keep jazz alive and thriving in his hometown and throughout Quebec.

Vogel leaves behind a legacy that includes more than 2,000 musical works. It’s estimated that Vogel performed more than 10,000 times throughout his 70-year career, sharing the stage with thousands of artists including Paul Anka, Ella Fitzgerald, Céline Dion, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Gerry Mulligan, Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Mel Tormé.

Canadian jazz journalist Mark Miller wrote in a public Facebook post that Vogel was a “grand storyteller” who led a big band “built on sound Ellington principles, that spanned several generations of Montreal jazz musicians during its 40-some years and that typically played with a lot of swagger and not a little blare.”

Vogel began playing the piano at age 5, and when he was 19 he began teaching himself how to play the trombone. He was mostly self-taught throughout his childhood, but went on to study piani and music theory with Michel Harvey in Montreal and with Lennie Tristano in New York.

Vic Vogel et le Jazz Big Band began in 1968, and the orchestra remained active for more than half a century. Vogel was also a fixture of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, having participated in almost every edition.

“The name Vic Vogel is associated with a musician who succeeded in each of his appearances to share his passion for music, and jazz in particular,” Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said in a statement. “My thoughts go to his family, his loved ones and all the fans mourning his loss.”

Beyond his jazz legacy, Vogel also has a place in Canada’s broader cultural history. He composed, arranged and directed the music presented at Expo 67, Terre des Hommes in 1968, the Olympics in 1976, the Grey Cup in 1981 and 1985 and the Canada Games in 1985.  He contributed music to numerous films, TV and radio programs and NFB documentaries. He collaborated with several major classical ensembles, and he wrote and directed more than 500 hours of music for productions at Gilles Latulippe’s Théâtre des Variétés. He was awarded the prestigious Oscar Peterson Prize in 1992, and thanks to his involvement in Cuba beginning in the early ’90s, he became the only non-Cuban to receive “El Angelote,” one of the highest recognitions offered to the country’s artists. In 2007, he was the subject of the documentary film The Brass Man.

According to his Facebook page, a celebration in honour of Vic Vogel “will take place shortly.”