Vic Vogel studied piano as a child. He also studied piano, theory and analysis with Michel Hirvy in 1954–55. References to his studies in New York with Lennie Tristano are apocryphal. Vogel was largely self-taught on trombone, tuba and vibraphone, and as an arranger.
In the late 1950s, Vogel played in the bands of Hugh Sealey, George Sealey, Paul “Boogie” Gaudet, Steve Garrick and others. He then led his first group ca. 1960 at the Chez Paree. He toured Quebec as the pianist for The Double Six of Paris in 1961. He then played piano, trombone and tuba in the Lee Gagnon tentet of the early 1960s. In 1966, he led a group of Montreal jazz musicians on a CBC-sponsored tour of Europe.
Vogel emerged during the 1960s as a musician of considerable influence, bluster and colour. He moved freely between jazz, pop and, occasionally, symphonic assignments. He served as music director or accompanist for many CBC TV variety shows, including Music Hall, Les Couche-tard, and Vedettes en direct. He and his groups were also heard such on CBC Radio series as Jazz en liberté, Jazz Canadiana, Jazz sur le vif and Jazz Beat.
Vic Vogel Big Band
One such group, the Vic Vogel Big Band, was formed in 1968. It took its general style from the Duke Ellington Orchestra and its brash temperament from Vogel himself. It made a broadcast recording for the CBC (which included Vogel’s “Booze is Beautiful”). The band generally had an interrupted history until 1978, when it appeared regularly at the El Casino. In 1979, the band toured Quebec and recorded with Offenbach. The resulting LP, Offenbach En Fusion, received a Félix Award as rock album of the year in 1980.
The Vogel band toured in France in 1982. It also performed in other Quebec centres and at the 1985 Ottawa International Jazz Festival. (See also: Jazz Festivals.) The band performed regularly at the FIJM, both on its own and with noted American guests (Zoot Sims and Phil Woods in 1984; Mel Tormé in 1985; Dizzy Gillespie in 1986). A sextet drawn from the big band also toured Quebec. In 1989, it performed at the du Maurier Downtown Jazz festival in Toronto.
The big band’s first album, Vic Vogel Big Band, was recorded at the 1982 FIJM. It was reissued as Vic Vogel and the Awesome Big Band by the Pinnacle label in 1987. It subsequently received extensive radio play in the US. A second album, Le Big Band, issued in 1990, comprised performances from the 1984 FIJM (uncredited) and a 1988 studio session. A third album, Lé Big Band, was released in the US in 1990. It features performances with Sims and Woods at the 1984 FIJM.
The Vic Vogel Big Band featured a number of soloists: saxophonists Remi Bolduc (alto), Yannick Rieu (tenor), Simon Stone (soprano), Janis Stephrans (alto), Dave Turner (alto) and Jean Frechette (baritone); the trumpeter Ron DiLauro; and the trombonists Michel Ouellet and David Grott. The band’s recordings include Vogel’s arrangements of pop and bebop standards, as well as some of his original compositions, including Blues No. 2, Vanessa, Ballad for Duke, Sym's Tune, Bertie's Lament, Free Trade Blues, and Marion. Vogel’s arrangements also have been recorded by Vernon Isaac’s big band.
Vogel wrote or arranged (and usually conducted) music for ceremonies at Man and His World in 1968, the 1976 Olympic Summer Games in Montreal, the Canada Games in 1985, and the Grey Cup half-time shows in 1981 and 1985. For the Olympics, he arranged welcoming and theme songs from excerpts of works by André Mathieu. The music was recorded by the Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal.
Vogel also wrote several musical comedies for the Théâtre des Variétés, including La Course au mariage, recorded in 1973 for Trans Canada. He composed themes for CBC and CTV news programs, as well as scores for NFB productions and other films. He arranged music for jazz soloist and symphony (or string) orchestra, including: for trumpeter Woody Shaw and the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in 1978; for a Nelson Symonds show broadcast on CBC Radio in 1985; and for Oliver Jones and the Halifax Symphony Orchestra in 1988 (and subsequently with other orchestras, including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at the FIJM in 1989).
Death and Tributes
Vogel died at his home in Montreal in 2019 at the age of 84. A message posted to his Facebook page noted that he passed away “beside his true love, his Steinway piano.” Vogel had been ill for several years. The Montreal International Jazz Festival held a farewell concert in his honour in 2015 but he was unable to attend. He had performed at the festival for 35 years — more than any other artist.
Following Vogel’s death, Montreal mayor Valérie Plante said in a statement, “We have lost a great Montrealer. The name Vic Vogel is associated with the image of a musician who managed, in every single performance, to get us all to share his passion for music, and jazz in particular.” Andrew Homzy, a former jazz professor at Concordia University who played tuba in the Vogel Big Band for 14 years, called him “the patriarch of jazz in Montreal.” Oliver Jones called Vogel “a very unique musician who deserved an awful lot of respect.”