In a 1986 conversation with this author, Vic Vogel knew he was on the right track fronting his Jazz Big Band. “Around 1968, I was playing a now defunct club called La Jazzthèque,” he said. “I knew I had something good going on then, because there was a bus stop in front of the club and, in the summer, people would actually forget to take their bus, because they would listen to us through the open windows.”
While purely anecdotal, this story is also quite telling about a truly colourful character of Montreal’s music scene, one whose career spanned more than six decades until his passing last month. A trombonist in his early days, this local son of Austro-Hungarian stock put down his slide to tickle the ivories instead, an instrument that would unlock his true musical vocation as a prolific composer and arranger.
Like all musicians of his time drawn to popular music, he learned his trade on the job, the bustling club scene of the era being the only educational outlet for young Turks like him. Of all his influences, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie impressed him the most. Throughout Vic’s lengthy career, he wore this dual influence on his sleeve with the firm conviction that he was a worthy representative of a truly American tradition of music making.
For the record, Vogel actually assumed the leadership of La Jazzthèque from Lee Gagnon, a now forgotten saxophonist who took a one-way ticket to New York to try his luck, but to no avail. Through thick and thin, the piano-playing leader kept his charges on their toes, maintaining a schedule of weekly Monday evening rehearsals for decades in various locations, including his own home in the last years of his life.
Of the band’s journeymen, trumpeter Ron Di Lauro was unrivaled in terms of loyalty. As Harry Carney was to Ellington, so was Di Lauro to Vogel: months shy of 20th birthday, he subbed one night in 1979, only to get his own chair a year later. “Everybody knew Vic for his gruffness,” Di Lauro reminisces, “but the truth of the matter was that he was an extremely sensitive person who cared for the welfare of his charges. If someone was sick, he’d call me up and find out if all was well. We were all like family to him.”
More than his long tenure, Di Lauro became the straw boss of the band, both on and off stage, a position he kept in large part after the hiring of a business manager in the 1990s. “Sure, Vic barked a lot,” Di Lauro notes, “but he never bit.” And no one knows that better than the right-hand man of Captain Vogel, who has now sailed off into the sunset.
Born Aug. 3, 1935, in Montreal, Stefan Viktor Vogel passed away in his home town on Sept. 16, aged 84. Aside from his extended musical family and manager Bob Pover, he is mourned by his daughter Vanessa, his son Sebastian, a life partner and grandchildren.