Art Katona -- Champ Champagne is
an versatile instrumentalist, excelling in a variety of
styles and idioms on the piano, organ
and bass. His abilities go far beyond that of a professional performer.
For over 45 years, he has made his mark as a prolific and gifted composer,
arranger and teacher.
Champ Champagne is without a doubt one of the most talented and accomplished
all-around musicians in this region of Canada, and arguably in the entire
Throughout his career, Champ has
been associated with some of the best jazz, pop and dance music played
in the Ottawa area. His big bands have always had a unique and special
sound, in large part because of Champ's own original arrangements. His
compositions, which also form part of his band's repertoire, are lyrical
and tasteful. He is known throughout North America and even in Europe for
his writings and seminars on the practical application of musical theory.
Champ is not thought of primarly as a jazz musician, he tries to put down
his abilities in this area. But his music speaks louder than than
his words. Anyone lucky enough to have heard him with the CANADIAN JAZZ
QUARTET in the late 1950's, is aware that he ranks high among this country's
jazzmen. He is able to combine an effortless mastery of technique
with with a relaxed sense of swing and a melodic, delicate, at times humorous
approach to creative improvisation. Even today, he can be heard in snatches
when he takes a jazz solo with his bands, or when he holds forth with a
local group such as DUOBONES. He is best known in this idiom as a pianist,
but is equally versatile on the organ or string bass.
Champ has the temperament of a complex, sensitive, creative artist. He
is intelligent, witty (some might say 'corny'), generous, warm and
gregarious, -yet can be moody and temperamental (almost to a fault) when
frustrated in his work. His patience and tolerance as a teacher can give
outbursts of irritability. -But, then
nobody ever said musicians have to be normal, well-balanced (and
boring). He is a man of hidden talents;
for example, most people today do not realize that for many years (many
years ago) Champ was one of the country's best amateur fastball players
- and a pitcher ar that! He is one of Ottawa's genuine characters, a true
Champ's musical career (Sport Illustrated will have to cover his athletic
career) began in 1949 at the old GATINEAU CLUB, where he started playing
piano and string bass, (not at the same time) with HARRY THOMPSON and his
ORCHESTRA. Instantly, he became a full-time musician. In those days, a
large part of a night's work consisted playing floor-shows. Two shows,
six nights a week with rehearsals; for a green lad of 19, it was real case
of learning on the job. After playing with this and several other bands
over the next three years (including those of JIMMIE LYTLE, KEN CAMPBELL
and HARRY POZY), he joined the CANADIAN AIR FORCE CENTAL BAND as principal
string bass, where he, during his Air Force years - self-taught in arranging,
gigging around town on the side, and developing his skills as a performing
In 1956, after leaving the Air Force, he formed his first group - an 8-piece
band that played a two-year stint at the GATINEAU CLUB. In 1958-59 his
prime focus was the CANADIAN JAZZ QUARTET, which is perhaps one of the
finest jazz combos ever to come out of Canada. The Quartet's work survives
only on tape, and it's a pity. This group has a refreshing, polished, original
sound that still sounds modern today, and combines lyricism, swing and
innovation in satisfying proportions. Champ plays both piano and bass,
along with RUSS THOMAS (reeds), PETE FLEMING (vibes and bass), ERIC MacDONALD
(drums). His jazz personality is well-established on the recordings, which
are a testament to his mature development after ten years as a professional.
In 1958, Champ founded the OTTAWA SAX QUARTET, which stayed together actively
for about four years, mainly doing work for CBC-radio, but which has been
re-incarnated a number of times since then. In those days, the musicians
in the Quartet, (many of whom are still active around Ottawa), are an indication
of the high quality of the group: RUSS THOMAS (soprano & flute), BRUCE
TETU (alto & clarinet), BUSTER MONROE (tenor & clarinet), JOHN
HILCHIE (baritone & clarinet), PETE FLEMING (string bass), ERIC MacDONALD
(drum), and CHAMP (piano). In 1960-61 he replaced BRUCE and BUSTER with
DUKE McGUIRL and HUGH O'CONNOR.
Champ re-forned his band in 1959 with some Ottawa's best sidemen. Champ's
big band have been a mainstay on the Ottawa music scene ever since. Throughout
the 60's, 70's and 80's, Champ continued to do large amount of work for
both CBC and CTV.
From 1961 to 1971, Champ was the musical director at CJOH-TV. He is perhaps
best known international for his composing, arranging and performing for
GRAHAM KERR'S GALLOPING GOURMET TV show, from 1969 to 1971. In addition
to his arranging for the show, Champ composed over six hours of original
music for some 600 shows; writing in the style of the country of origin
of each dish (presumably dabbing in Dixieland for Creole cooking).
As any serious musician will tell you, it's tough to make a decent living
playing music full-time. One simply has to branch out into other areas.
In the mid-70's Champ went into the music "business", opening a music store
in Hull, that specialized in organ sales. The venture lasted almost seven
years, but ended because Champ, in his own words, was simply not cut out
to be a "merchant". During that time, he continued to travel throughout
North America, on behalf of well-known organ manufacturers, giving organ
seminars (it's hard to read that without smirking). Also in the mid-70's,
he started to write articles on music for magazines. He publishes to this
day in several musical journals, and to compose and arrange music for music
publishers. His two books "MUSICAL MANEUVERS", is a witty, original look
at musical theory for practucal use, in which he successfully puts fun
back into the music game.
Back in 1955, when Champ left the Air Force, he made a conscious decision
to fend for himself as a professional musician. To survive, however, he
has found himself doing less and less playing as the years have gone by,
branching out into almost every facet of music-related activity. But if
he had his druthers, he would much prefer just to play full time. The live
Canadian music scene would be the richer for it.
Champ had a stroke in 1987. His right hand is not mobile, and he has Aphasia.
Although he can use only one hand, he can still operate his computer and
write music. Thanks to HAL LEONARD PUBLISHING, he's still doing a little
We in Ottawa are privileged to have had Champ - and the fine musicians
with whom he has associated - playing for us over the years. By the way:
-- in the 90's, Champ still leads a 13-piece Swing Band.