Blog Post

Lionel Volel, a great saxophonist: realistic, humble and perfectionist

BY DR. ROLAND LÉONARD

… We close our eyes to travel back in time. As if by magic, we meet again in about 1964, to visualize the Ibo-Lélé hotel at the Montagne Noire, in Pétion-Ville, and its famous “shango” dancing, ballroom. It is the property of the Baussans, with a clientele that is both Haitian and cosmopolitan, honored in its galleries by the photos of famous tourists and visitors (Richard Nixon, Martine Carol and other famous actresses or stars). Every weekend, a small and famous group, or combo, hosts a dance for locals or foreigners at the “shango”.

It’s Ibo-Combo, the famous ancestor, if not the first of Haitian mini-jazz (perhaps on a par with its contemporary, the “shelberts” of Le Canapé-Vert); preceding the “shleus-shleus” in popular favor. It’s a host of great talents.

There are figures such as Ferdinand Dor (double bass), José Tavernier (maestro, drummer and singer), Jacquy Duroseau (piano), Titte Pascal and Fritz Joassaint (guitar), Eddy Prophète (accordion and piano), Carlos Ramirez (accordion), André Romain (vocals). There is a young saxophonist, remarkable on alto and occasionally tenor: Lionel Volel. He is sparkling, skillful, elegant and dashing. He is very intelligent and, as with more than one of this gang of accomplices, friends and flirts, catches the eyes of the girls, admiring.

Friends and auxiliary musicians of Ibo-Combo: Jacques Paul Eugène, of the “shelberts du Canapé-Vert”, and “Ti-Ben”… X… Benoit, respectively on accordion and floor-tom with cowbell or gong.

Ibo-Combo has benefited generously from the advice and arrangements, sometimes from the musical direction, of their more advanced elder, a great singer and arranger-composer, Herby Widmaier. The latter was well versed in jazz and modern harmony. He therefore influenced the tastes of these musicians as well as others before them.

The “shango” and its magical nights are frequented and frequented by all the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois beau monde and the enlightened youth. And even by rival and curious musicians. This happiness lasted about three years (1964-1967); until a tragic accident, a shot attempt on the life of the star guitarist, Alix “Titte” Pascal, who escaped paralyzed in the lower limbs (January 1967).

For a while, it was the pilgrimage of friends and musicians to the victim’s home for advice or rehearsals, especially of Jazz. It was at Titte Pascal’s, my cousin’s, in the rue Geffrard, Pétion-Ville, that I met all these beautiful people and in particular Lionel Volel, Jeannot Montès, Didier Pétrus, Fritz Joassaint and then Boulo Valcourt. They felt and experimented with the pieces of the great American genre, Jazz, with bossas-novas along the way.

For three or four Sundays, in the precincts of the church of Saint-Pierre in Pétion-Ville, under the pretext of musical and spiritual entertainment, we were able to listen, during the breaks of the mass, to jazz tunes – oh profanation! – including “Take Five” by Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck, played by a curious quartet: Lionel Volel on alto saxophone, exhibitor and sole soloist, Jeannot Montès, on double bass, Titte Pascal on electric guitar and Didier Pétrus, on drums. They were encouraged in this by a singular and controversial priest, the Spiritan René Soler. The year is 1968, under François Duvalier.

After Titte Pascal’s departure for the United States, Lionel Volel, Boulo Valcourt, Jeannot Montès, Frantz Courtois, Jean Alix “Jan-Jan” Laraque and one or two others were to regroup in “Violence”, a group performing at “La frigate canadienne” at the Cité de l’Exposition. Genres: jazz, blues, rnb, rock-and-roll, soul and Haitian music.

New friendships and complicities

At the same time, the three musketeers, Lionel Volel, Jeannot Montès and Frantz Courtois, gravitated in the orbit of Herby Widmaier to work, rehearse, produce one or two shows, and record, on a private and non-commercial basis, some famous pieces to accompany the singer.

It was the era of “Alfie”, “New Orleans”, “Dindi”, “Berimbaü”, or “Bidonville” according to Claude Nougaro, “si j’avais des sous” by Gilbert Bécaud, “Raison de vivre” by Eumir Deodato and Gérald Merceron, “This guy in love with you”, by Burt Bacharach. The phenomenal singer’s voice is at its peak.

There is quite a long silence, and we lose sight of Lionel Volel. There was a reunion with the public at the “Swing Club” of the El-Rancho Hotel, between 1992 and 1993. Lionel plays the soprano saxophone in addition to the alto. There are: Réginald Policard (piano and synthesizers); Toto Laraque (electric guitar); Françoise Borno Volel (vocals and percussion); Alix Corvington (bass); Rudy Guillaume (drums) and Maxime Castera (congas). Together with the group’s sax, they form the “Wave” formation, playing jazz and jazzy music. They make us forget the sinister embargo against Haiti after the coup d’état of September 30, 1991. We were faithful to those Saturdays, at the El-Rancho Hotel.

These, if our memory serves us correctly, are all our happiest memories of this great musician. At once realistic, humble and perfectionist, despite his immense talent, the saxophonist has recorded little, like his French colleague, the great tenor Jean-Louis Chautemps. He has been featured as a soloist or sideman on his friends’ records.

It was, it seems, his great friend Eddy Prophète who insisted on integrating him into Ibo-Combo.

Lionel Volel has collaborated with Fabrice Rouzier’s “Corvington” and “Mizik-Mizik”. […]

 

————————————————–

Sonny Seraphin – Lionel Volel was the saxophonist of !’ Ensemble IBO LELE who played every Friday night at the hotel of the same name in Haiti, in the 1960s, but he had never abandoned the music scene.

Gaguy Depestre, a very good friend of Lionel Volel, was the saxophonist of the IBO COMBO orchestra in New York in the early 70s. Gaguy returned to Haiti to join Lionel Volel in his commercial establishment, reuniting with Boulo Valcourt, Jean-Jean and Toto Laraque, Reginald Policard and the other musician friends.
Haitian music is in mourning. Lionel leaves a void that will not be easy to fill.

Jean Jean-Pierre – I am very saddened by the news of the death of this great musician. Another member of the family leaves. He had this unique sound to himself. In recent years, every time I met Lionel Volel, I never failed to express my regret knowing that he had abandoned the saxophone in favor of the piano.
It’s just a goodbye.

Alix Ambroise Jr. – Such sad news! Such a loss! A genius has departed. A giant of a man is no longer. A special breath has stopped. A remarkable musician who has influenced many. A unique saxophonist who crafted a style and left a legacy. R.I.P. maestro.

Eddy Prophète – I have just lost another brother, Lionel Volel has died, I knew Lionel very young we played in the same musical group. he was also my neighbour at Cité Wilson, we always remained very close to each other; Even after many years abroad, our friendship has remained intact. This news saddens me deeply, rest in peace my brother. My condolences to his wife Françoise Borno and the rest of the family.

Toto Laraque – THIS MORNING WE RECEIVED A HAMMER BLOW WITH THE SUDDEN DEATH OF OUR FRIEND LIONEL VOLEL. HE WAS A GREAT SAXOPHONIST WITH A PARTICULAR SOUND, HE PLAYED IN THE IBO LÉLÉ ORCHESTRA WITH EDDY PROPHETE, TITE PASCAL, JOSÉ TAVERNIER ETC. OUR MUSICAL FAMILY HAS SUFFERED A GREAT SHOCK. LIONEL WAS A SINCERE FRIEND WHO WE WILL NEVER FORGET. OUR SINCERE CONDOLENCES GO TO FRANÇOISE, STÉPHANIE, SANDRINE, DIMITRI

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

15 ÷ = 3