Memories of Vic Juris

Today marks the second anniversary of Vic Juris’ passing.

In April 2008, I was a first year student at Carleton University and was still relatively new to jazz. I started checking out some modern albums maybe a couple years earlier, and went to a few concerts. On the recommendation of my brother, we bought tickets to go see the second set of The David Liebman Group at Café Paradiso. I had no idea what I was getting into. What I heard was absolutely astounding. The group played music from their albums Conversation (2003) & Back On The Corner (2006). I had never heard anything like it and seeing it performed live left me awestruck. The band played music like nothing else I’ve heard and had a chemistry that I haven’t heard matched since. They had been playing together since 1991.

The following day, I went to a clinic that was hosted at Carleton University where the band did an open rehearsal and did a Q&A. After the clinic, I showed Vic Juris and Marco Marcinko to the cafeteria where they got a bite to eat. I mostly just remember being starstruck. Vic let me try his signature Tom Doyle guitar and asked me what I thought of it.

In May 2011, I was extremely excited to hear that the David Liebman Group was returning for 2 nights to Café Paradiso. So much so that I bought tickets to both sets for both nights. I still remember the club owner thinking that was weird, haha. It cost me 90$ but I didn’t care, I knew the band was worth it. I brought my Zoom H4n and asked Liebman and the band if they would be OK with me recording the music for my personal use. They said it was OK as long as I sent them a copy. The second day Vic greeted me by my first name which surprised me. The concerts were perhaps the best shows I’ve seen in my life. The greatness of the music that was played on those nights is something that I have been striving towards ever since. I sent them my recordings in the mail and was pleasantly surprised a week or so later, to receive a heartfelt voicemail from Vic thanking me for the recordings and for coming out to the gigs.

A few months later, in August 2011, I attended the David Liebman Chromatic Masterclass in East-Strousburg, PA and on one of the days Liebman invited a guest-speaker: Vic Juris. When Vic entered the room he took a look at all the faces and said: “Hey Justin! How are you doing?”. I was so impressed that he even remembered me.

After that I saw him in Ottawa on numerous occasions with Roddy Ellias and with John Geggie and I attended every show and clinic. He was always super friendly to me; asking me how my studies at CU were going. He even gave me some DVDs of his.

In late August 2015, I went to Long Beach Island, NJ to take part in a workshop hosted by Vic Juris & Kate Baker that lasted a few days. It was a very memorable experience. I arrived a bit ahead of the others and got to chat and hang with Vic while we waited for others to arrive. He asked me to grab my guitar and jam one on one. The following day, after a day of group classes, we went to the rooftop and jammed some Gypsy Jazz. It was such a blast, Vic was so into it and still played the style really well even though he hadn’t played that stuff since touring with Bireli in the mid-80s. I was lucky to get a lot of one on one sessions with him during the workshop where he pushed me hard. He shared so many great stories, was generous with his time, and was always very kind. At the end of the workshop, he invited me to come back in the future to help him set up a pedalboard and jam at his place but I was sadly never able to take him up on his offer. I hoped to catch him on my recent trip to NYC but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stick around long enough.

Vic Juris was a badass, an inspiring human and musician. One of the best guitarists ever, and he always treated me like a friend. I am extremely grateful for the time I had in his presence. He had a huge impact on me. I am truly saddened to hear of his passing. My condolences to his family and friends.

This is a recording from the David Liebman Group at Café Paradiso in May 2011

My Favourite Vic Juris albums

The music he did with Liebman is very modern and full of energy, dense harmonies and a lot of intensity. If you like something more traditional, start off with the albums that Vic did as a leader. Let me know what you think or if there are some I should add to the list.

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