'The person that would change things': Montreal jazz icon Vic Vogel dies at 84

'The person that would change things': Montreal jazz icon Vic Vogel dies at 84

Legendary Canadian jazz musician Vic Vogel has died at the age of 84. 

He passed early Monday morning at his home in Montreal, next to his Steinway piano, which he had played since he was 16, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Victor Stefan Vogel, who became a pianist, conductor, composer, arranger and trombonist, was born in Montreal on Aug. 3, 1935.

"Jazz is the thing I love," Vogel told Radio-Canada in a 1960s interview. "It's powerful; it's alive. It's so much fun; it's interesting — ah!" 

His work includes more than 2,000 pieces, arrangements and compositions; his name is on more than 60 albums, and he has given more than 10,000 performances. 

Vogel is remembered by his friend and fellow prominent Montreal jazz musician Oliver Jones as "a very unique musician who deserved an awful lot of respect."

Mostly self-taught

"He had some training, but most of everything he figured out on his own," Jones told Sabrina Marandola, host of CBC Montreal's Let's Go radio program. "It's not easy in the jazz world."

Jones met Vogel when he was 15 and Vogel was 14, when they were both accompanying singers and tap dancers at a local YMCA. 

"From that point on we were close friends for many many years," Jones said. "I just thought the world of him as one of our greatest musicians."

Montreal Jazz Festival

The ever-colourful bandleader was a fixture on the city's music scene for decades, playing at almost every Montreal International Jazz Festival, including the very first one in 1980.

A musician with a public profile since the age of 14, Vogel was mostly self-taught. He played in several dance orchestras in the 1950s, eventually conducting his own musical ensemble in 1960 at Club Chez Parée. 

He then toured with the Parisian vocal group Les Doubles Six in 1961 and later, the Société Radio-Canada's jazz orchestra in 1966. 

In 1968, he founded The Big Jazz Band, which he conducted for more than 50 years. 

The album Vic Vogel and the Awesome Big Band entered the American Billboard chart in 1987. 

Jones said Vogel was unafraid to forge new paths in music and always wanted to do something "a little bit different."

"Vic was the person that would change things and end up doing something completely new for the first time," Jones said. "He was very very unique as far as writing." 

Tom Hanson/Canadian Press

"I know there will always be a time when we'll say, 'I wish Vic was here to do this,'" Jones said, offering his condolences to Vogel's family and friends. 

Vogel shared the stage with more than 2,000 artists, among them some of the legendary musicians of all time. 

They include Paul Anka, Sammy Davis Jr., Édith Piaf, Celine Dion, Michel Legrand, Jerry Lewis, Chucho Valdés, Maynard Ferguson, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Phil Wood, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Tormé and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 2005, Vogel represented the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the European Broadcasting Union named him to compose, arrange and conduct the European Youth Jazz Orchestra, with which he toured in Europe and recorded an album in tribute to Oscar Peterson's 80th birthday.


Concordia University presented Vogel with an honorary doctorate in 2010, calling him a "premiere musician and key force in establishing Montreal as a world jazz capital."

"I'm flabbergasted," he told CBC Montreal's evening radio program Homerun in 2010. "Being a bit of a rebel all my life, I guess it's a way that society is accepting me into their folds, which is quite an honour."

Vogel had a special affinity for Cuba, and Cuban music. In 2008, he told Homerun he would collect pianos and other instruments to send them to Cuba after large areas of the island sustained damage from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.