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Wherever there is jazz, Vogelesque energy is sure to be at play

June, 2010

Vic Vogel is more than just a bold and engaging jazz musician, trombonist, pianist, arranger, composer, and leader.

Hipster, charmer and raconteur par excellence, Vogel is one of those Montrealers from various cultural streams who helped define the music scene that defines the city.

Propelled by his trademark high-intensity Vogelesque energy, Vogel is the only musician to have been a headliner at nearly every Montreal International Jazz Festival since its inception in 1980, which he closed with his 17-member big band. This year he’s leading a sextet on June 28 at 8 p.m. at Théâtre Jean Duceppe, part of the Jazz Beat series.

When he turns 75 on Aug. 3, Vogel will not be raising a glass in Montreal: He’ll be in Varadero, Cuba, where the musical community has insisted on hosting his anniversary. Over the years, Vogel has bonded with the vibrant and burgeoning Cuban music scene and has organized the collection and shipment of instruments here to support student musicians there.

Wherever there was jazz in the last 30 years, Vogel was sure to turn up.

Born of Hungarian parents, Vogel grew up in the late 1930s in the area around St. Laurent Blvd.

From the corner of Prince Arthur St. moving north, there was a synagogue on just about every block. That’s where he picked up a smattering of Yiddish, which he enjoys showing off. Vogel, who isn’t Jewish, was asked to be a Shabbes Goy – a gentile who turns on lights during the Sabbath, which is forbidden to the Orthodox because it is considered work. He and his friends also made the rounds to bar mitzvahs and other celebrations to enjoy the eats.

Vogel took lessons in New York from Lenny Tristano, legendary blind pianist and trail-blazing improviser.

One of his first jobs as a teenager was playing a Steinway grand piano in the window of the old Layton’s music store on Ste. Catherine near Stanley. He fell in love with the instrument, and when he had enough money for a down payment, bought the piano.

Jazzer Vic Vogel helped define the music scene that defines the city. Photo courtesy of: Bob Pover

He had the piano dismantled and brought to the studio four years ago when he recorded his wonderfully romantic Je joue mon piano (VV Records/Sélect), on which he plays originals with characteristic passion, firmly in the Duke Ellington tradition. It features a DVD in French, with a shorter English version, telling his life story and that of the city that nurtured him. It contains footage from his 2005 big-band tour of Europe.

In what is a major recognition of his leadership acumen, the European Broadcasting United appointed Vogel that year to direct the European Jazz orchestra, an ensemble of some of the best young talent recruited from various countries.

Vogel has always been over the top, but also knew how to take care of business. So from 1951 to 1965, he played the then-busy Montreal cabaret and hotel circuit in a variety of combinations, including the venerable Lion d’Or dance hall on Ontario E.

In recognition of his skill as an accompanist, he toured in 1961 with the famous Double Six of Paris vocal group and played regularly with the Lee Gagnon Tentet.

At Man and his World, he directed a 60-member orchestra accompanying many of the luminaries who appeared at Expo ’67. A wider public knew Vogel in 1978 when he led a big band every Monday night at the old El Casino club, then toured with the blues-rock group Offenbach.

Vogel’s renown grew as a result of annual gigs at the jazz festival and the recordings he made of several performances.

At his big-band rehearsals at a Park Ave. walkup, later on Ontario E., Vogel would combine jokes, wordplays of musicians’ names and vivid instructions on how he wanted to hear the musicians play.

Trumpeter Ron Di Lauro, who this year leads his own big band (reprising the Miles Davis-Gil Evans charts for Porgy and Bess June 30, at Théâtre Jean Duceppe at 8 p.m.) joined the Vogel band while still a student in 1980. He praised Vogel as “a mentor and father figure” who helped him to develop leadership skills and musical values.

“Vic is responsible for aiding and giving credibility to at least four generations of musicians in his band.”

He credits Vogel with the skill to score full Big Band arrangements “sitting at a bar with no piano.”

“Contrary to the image he likes to project, Vic is a man with a big heart, terribly shy and deeply sensitive.”

As for his legendary braggadocio, “It’s all a front,” DiLauro says.

Alto saxophonist Rémi Bolduc recalls playing at age 19 with Vogel at the former Grand Café on St. Denis when a patron started screaming out a request. Vogel stopped the band, took the mike and asked the man if he had paid to get in.

When the patron replied that he had, Vic told the manager to give him his money back and ordered the loudmouth to “Get out, now!” Bolduc recalled. As he got to know him better, Bolduc, one of the most active players on the local scene and a teacher at McGill University, said he discovered “a really sweet man.” “Vic Vogel has always been really supportive. It is a treat to see him – one of the last players who was active in the 1940s and 1950s still playing.

“I have the highest respect for him.”

The Montreal International Jazz Festival gets underway June 15 and runs until July 5. 514-871-1181,



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