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 Fuller Up, The Dead Musician Directory
Champ Champagne
Champ Champagne
In His Sleep        Dec. 31, 1998
Age 69
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OBITUARY 
        
       
 
From Ottawa Citizen  
Local musician demanded the very best
Pianist once performed with Louis Armstrong
By Charles Enman 

One of the most accomplished and versatile musicians of this corner of the country died on New Year’s Eve.  Champ Champagne – a pianist, organist, double bass player, and prolific composer and arranger – was 69. 

Mr. Champagne was born into a world of music.  His father, Paul Champagne of Ottawa, played the organ in local movie houses.  His mother, Jeanne Champagne, was a piano teacher. 

Mr. Champagne never needed formal lessons as a child.  He could serviceably7 play virtually any instrument by ear.  At 19, still too young to drink, he began working as a pianist and bass player at the old Gatineau Club in Aylmer, playing with Harry Thompson and His Orchestra. 

Over the next three years, he sharpened his skills with other bands, including those of Jimmie Lytle, Ken Campbell and Harry Pozy. 

In the 1950s, he founded the Canadian Jazz Quartet, followed by the Ottawa Saxophone Quartet.  Both were given heavy play on CBC Radio and were considered premier Canadian jazz groups. 
For many years, he led a jazz trio, a small swing orchestra, and a big band.  Along the way, he played with many famous musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Oliver Jones, and Chuck Mangione. 
He was also well known as a teacher and for many years ran Quebec’s first Yamaha Music Store, in Hull. 
"As a musician, everything he did was effortless and natural," recalled drummer Glenn Robb, who played with Mr. Champagne for 30 years. 

"He was also a good mentor to young musicians – but he demanded the best, and could give you hell if you weren’t giving him what he wanted." 

Mr. Champagne served 10 years as the first music director of CJOH (tv). 

It was his music that serenaded the puppets on the Uncle Chichimus Show.  He wrote the theme music for chef Graham Kerr’s Galloping Gourment show, which was distributed around the world. 

"Champ was perhaps the most versatile musician I ever met," said Les Lye, who worked with Mr. Champagne for many years at CJOH.  "It was all as natural as breathing for him." 

He also had a sense of humour, Mr. Lye recalls.  On one occasion, he was providing musical background for a televised exercise program.  As a sweating staffer demonstrated a hip exercise, Mr. Champagne found just the appropriate tune – Cheek to Cheek. 
 

Few people know that Mr. Champagne, in his 20s, was a semi-pro pitcher for the Hull-Volant Softball Team. 

In 1987, Mr. Champagne suffered a stroke that robbed him of fluent speech and of his ability to play the piano.  Though his performing days were mostly over, he went on to write books on music theory, including The Real Chord Changes and Substitutions, in which he shared tricks of the trade learned in 40 years of performing. 

Mr. Champagne had a second stroke three years ago that seemed to begin a gradual period of decline. 
"But he was fine on Christmas Eve," Glenn Robb recalls. "He was giggling and laughing…his cheerfulness never quite left him." 

On Dec. 30, Mr. Champagne simply went to bed and never woke up. 

"He had a beautiful last Christmas, and we’re grateful for that," said his daughter Lyn of Gatineau. 

"He was my inspiration – so sensitive, compassionate, generous, and slow to find fault in others.  He led a full life and I’m proud he was my father." 

Mr. Champagne also leaves a son, Marc Champagne. 

The Serge Legault Funeral Home in Hull is in charge of arrangements.  Visiting for family and close friends will be on Wednesday afternoon from 2-5 and 7-9. 
A funeral mass will be held on Friday at a church still to be determined. 

Those who wish may make donations to the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa-Carleton. 
 

 
  
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
 By 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 country.   

 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 way to 
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 original. 

                        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 musician. 

                          
                        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 arranging. 

                        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. 

 
 
  
 
 

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