Al Baculis, 1930-2007
Jazzman and teacher
Al Baculis, 1930-2007
The last passing
of the torch
There are many in Montreal's various musical communities who may owe a debt to Al Baculis. Not Phantom Power (and former Bootsauce) bassist Al Baculis - who is doubtless owed a few debts himself - but rather his father, Al Baculis Sr., who taught music composition at both Vanier College and McGill throughout much of the '80s. Those students will be among the many saddened to hear of Al Baculis Sr.'s death last Monday, Jan. 22, after a battle with cancer. He was 76.
A virtuoso clarinettist who also excelled at alto and tenor sax, Baculis enjoyed an illustrious playing career prior to teaching, joining the Canadian Jazz All-Stars - a Montreal-based quintet - in 1953 at only 23 years of age. Baculis would win the CBC All-Star Jazz Poll for his playing with the quintet, a victory he would repeat several years in a row. He was also a regular player in local ensembles that backed visiting stars, including Eartha Kitt, Edith Piaf and Tony Bennett in the '50s and '60s.
Baculis was a familiar name on live radio and TV on both French and English networks (later he would become a respected arranger and composer for Radio Canada, the CBC and the National Film Board, among others). In 1967, he founded the Al Baculis Singers, a six-part pop/jazz vocal ensemble that included his wife, Margo MacKinnon, and would go on to compose and arrange music for a galaxy of Quebec vedettes: Ginette Reno, Céline Dion and Michel Louvain, to name but a few. And in the mid-'60s, he accompanied a group of musicians entertaining UN troops stationed overseas, an honour he never forgot.
However, it was in 1976 that Baculis composed, arranged and performed the theme for the closing ceremonies of the Montreal Olympics, one of the loftier peaks in a career marked by many high points. "I remember there was a streaker running around in the background while he conducted," laughs son Al. "I've never had a gig like that!"
So Long Baculis
My sincere condolences to Al senior's family for the loss of this great musician; often enough we don't give credit to these artists while they are alive. Having been versatile in his career is what set him apart from other bassists, having composed and arranged songs or accompanying UN troops which we would take for granted. Visiting artists should only find the same type of quality accompaniment from young jazz musicians today.
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