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RIP Olaf Vas

Olaf Vas teaching at Nick Weldon’s Jazz School UK 

in Northamptonshire 

Reports are reaching us that saxophonist/clarinettist/ educator Olaf Vas passed away at the weekend, after a long struggle against illness. At one time a ubiquitous player on the London scene, and for many years a member of the resident band at the Savoy Hotel, Vas in recent years focussed on teaching, notably at Jazz School UK. Appearances as a player became increasingly rare, although he did play – memorably –  in a three tenor band put together by Eddie Harvey at Way Out West in 2007.  RIP.

UPDATE Aug 25th. The funeral of Olaf Vas will be on Thursday September 1st at 3pm.More details on request.

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12 replies »

  1. Thanks Olaf for your positive influences and encouragement back in time when it was really needed and much appreciated.

    Condolensces to the Vas Family.

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  2. Very sad, and I was only thinking about Olaf just the other day. I first knew him in Alan Cohen's band which did Black, Brown and Beige, and gave Olaf the enviable task of playing the Johnny Hodges ballad solo. Over the years, he was a trusted colleague with high standards and a wicked sense of humour (expressed in studio by saying, just before the red light, “Alright, everybody tense up!”, which of course had the opposite effect). I last worked with him after he'd moved from the house he lived in for 40 years, when I offered him a wine-bar duo – he played beautifully but was dissatisfied with his performance, to the extent that he turned down a return gig. I can only remember him, though, as being a very positive influence, on myself and numerous others.

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  3. Thank you Olaf for all your help and advice when I was one of your students in the City Lit big band in the early eighties. You helped to build my confidence and develop my saxophone playing.

    You were always kind and willing to help. I will forever remain grateful to you.

    Condolences to the Vas family.

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  4. With Olaf, I started the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland in 1991.
    He was an inspiration in every way and I can honestly say that no-one was was loved more as a teacher and musician than Olaf.
    He made the deepest of impressions on the young musicians in NYJOS and also Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra.
    I remember them falling over with laughter at his jokes but also being incredibly moved by his clarinet playing. We have all been touched by his humanity.
    He was also a great friend of my late brother and pianist Will Michael. When Olaf was last in Kirkcaldy we discussed recording some of Olaf's compositions that had never been heard. Will and I were going to arrange them for a small combo, but on the death of my brother (I last saw Olaf at his funeral) and Olaf's subsequent poor health, the project never got off the ground.
    I know the family are anxious that this music will be recorded and act as a tribute to dear Olaf and so am I, as I have the original parts in my library.
    As the great man would have said, “I can't take much less of this”!
    Richard Michael

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  5. So sad to hear of Olaf's passing. I first met Olaf when I was around 14 at NYJOS where he taught the saxophone students (including me). He was an amazing teacher and I learned a lot from him. I met him again some years later at the Wavendon jazz courses, where I had many classes with him over the years – he was always a real inspiration.
    As well as a great teacher and musician, Olaf was great company and a good friend. For several years we used to send each other Christmas cards and it was always fabulous to receive a note from Olaf! He was one of the funniest people I've ever met – we never made it through a class with Olaf without a few laughs!

    Olaf will be greatly missed But very fondly remembered by all his friends, by all of those he taught and inspired and by the wider jazz community.

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  6. So Sad to Hear of Olaf's passing. Had some great tutorials with him at BenslowMusic in Hitchin. One of his many sayings “If you make a mistake Make a BIG one”!! Ray Heraty, Limerick, Ireland

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  7. I used to see olaf playing on Friday nights at THE PLOUGH in STOCKWELL ROAD, BRIXTON back in the 60's, a terrific laid back venue made all the more so with OLAF VAS and all the other musicians just playing their stuff, so thanks OLF…….RIP….. Grenville

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  8. I saw the Olaf Vas quintet performing at my school (Battersea Grammar School) in 1968 when I was 13. I'm pretty sure that Dave Holland was on double bass. Excellent set. Good to read about his inspiring teaching work.

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  9. I recall Olaf stopping a rehearsal of the LYJO band saying ''It sounds like we're swimming through a sea of mars bars!'' After the rehearsal he came up to me a assured me the ''drum seat is yours..'' and to relax. It is quite right to note that he was generous to the most tallented players and the 'also rans' in equal measure, pulling us all together and up and out of those 'mars bar' moments to get a better band sound. What an impressive man to have met and had guidance from.

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  10. Olaf was my lodger from when he came to UK to study music from Goa or Nairoby – I never did sort that one out- anyway it was the time of Ida Amin and Indian folk were being pushed around by him! Olaf was a fine gentle man I mostly remember his walking around our apartment blowing ‘long notes’ on a disembodied mouthpiece. He went on to work with Cedric West while living with us in Brixton and Bayswater. ( look for Cedric West and Joe Pass jammin at Cedrics house at Goodmayes where Mike Edmonds made a video of them playing and chatting! – sadly now both gone to that (unpaid) gig in the sky. Ian Maclean

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  11. I remember playing with Olaf at a house warming party in Wentworth & was delighted
    with his mastery of the saxophone & flute He had a great dry sense of humour & was a very
    humble person, especially about his own playing.

    It was a great gig with Trevor Tomkins on drums, Alex Dankworth on bass & myself
    on keyboards & of course Olaf.

    I miss him!
    John Whitehead

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