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Vic Vogel Jazz Stories

Vic Vogel Jazz Stories

Julie De Belle

A translation from the original work by Marie Desjardins


I have been playing with Vic Vogel for over thirty years, since 1979, started at the end of a tour with Offenbach. My training is classical: 15 years with Les Grands Ballets, 15 years with the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra, and also as a member of the band La Bottine Souriante, so Vic taught me a lot. He is my musical father. The man has played alongside Miles Davis, Duke Ellington… knows the music of the 30’s and 50’s. His signature is his spontaneity, his astounding knowledge of repertoire and his talent for playing pieces in all 12 tones. Vic is astonishingly flexible. He is a legend in spite of the fact that he is not as well known outside of Montreal.

Bob Ellis, bass trombone

Nightlife was at its best in Montreal. It was an era born from prohibition in the United States, an era that would last half a century, from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. At the time, in every club, American and European stars were performing and having fun in what was then the very capital of music. The red light district was alive, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Women and men were elegantly dressed and every evening felt like a world premiere. Talent, love for music, rivalry and after-hour jam sessions shared the same banner, sparkling within the fireworks of guns, evening dresses and tailored suits that mingled in good faith in smoke-filled rooms, along with the wheeling and dealing, the sentimental intrigues. These were the surroundings that gave birth to Vic.

Vic Vogel, piano player.

Vic Vogel, a musician of Hungarian origin, but a Montrealer in his heart and soul.

This raging world was his home, his second skin, his amusement park where he navigated with great ease, from bar to bar, from cabarets to ballrooms, hotels and restaurants, in spite of his youth and a lingering shyness. Vic quickly learned to make his way – not without growling at times -in order to go beyond rejection or avoid the jealousy and pettiness in which rejection festered. He had quickly understood that all in all, one had to have self-confidence to survive an environment where a smile could foreshadow a sting and a sullen look, conceal admiration. He understood that the audience’s applause, the handshakes with bar owners and contract renewals were often worth more than some recognition written in some big name newspaper. Applause spoke louder than some compliment over the radio and certainly more than a slap on the back from a fellow pianist with whom one shared the fees, give or take some exceptions. In reality, there was enough work for everyone, the gifted and the less gifted, twenty-four-seven.

One Christmas Eve – he was then seventeen – Vic had managed to save up enough money, after all this time of piano playing in bars, he covered his parents’ bed with one dollar bills: a blanket of money. Having earned so much, at such a young age, and at night, was mindboggling. But for Mathias and Emilia, this was worrisome. Suddenly, they understood that all the day jobs in the world, at Birks or at the plant at Mitchell’s, and then Canadair, would rake in less money in a year than a few monthly shows on stage. However, Vic was proud and so happy to be able to counsel his parents to use the money to pay off the mortgage on their house. The Vogels had never seen so much money in their lives. And this was not a dream…

The sometime difficult prodigal child was profoundly loyal, generous, loving and discrete. One evening, while he was performing at the Montmartre Café on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, he recognized a familiar face in the room: his father’s. His father was dancing with another woman. Vic said nothing… because he was discreet. Clearly, Vic’s values were elsewhere, deeply-rooted values that would not change with success, because success can get to people, go to their heads. The night of the dollar bill bedspread had been a lesson in life. Emilia didn’t take a chance; she would not let the opportunity slip by. She had taken hold of her son’s arm and, while thanking him, begged him never to talk about the money. To no one. To avoid envy.

Vic would never forget his mother’s advice.

Whether he followed it or not.

Translated from VIC VOGEL HISTOIRES DE JAZZ, Marie Desjardins, Éditions du Cram, collection Portrait, 2013.




Excerpt from the novel Un passage vers l’Occident, by Didier Leclair, translated by Elaine Kennedy with Sheryl Curtis

The small fishing boat taking Africans to the coast of Spain was heaving in high waves. Each time the hull pounded the water, the passengers cried out in panic. None of them was used to being on a boat. For some, it was their first time out on the open water and they vowed it would be their last. Drenched with spray, they clung to their seats and the side of the boat, determined to set foot on Spanish soil. All seven were desperate to reach Europe and escape the poverty and fratricidal wars in their homelands. Some intended to stay in Spain; others hoped to go on to Italy, Germany, France or Belgium. Their final destinations varied, but their goal was the same—to flee to a rich country. Each of them had an infallible plan for disappearing into the night when they arrived. They would join an uncle or a brother who had already settled in the West. They knew the names of cities and streets, along with a few words in several European languages to help them find their way. The bolder ones even imagined meeting another African who would provide information, assistance or shelter. Yet all these schemes were no more than dreams until they managed to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their new life could not begin until they had completed this first leg of the journey across fifteen kilometres of water up to three hundred and fifty metres deep. Across a treacherous arm of the sea that can be smooth when it’s supposed to be rough and that can slam the cliffs when it seems to be calm. But then, this gateway to the Mediterranean separates Africa from Europe. A natural divide filled with age-old waters, it marks the boundary between two worlds of growing disparity: Western Europe, capable of providing for its citizens, and Africa, unable to meet the basic needs of the majority. This contrast, spawning envy and hatred, is mirrored in the rough and unpredictable waters of the strait. Continue reading ONE WAY WEST