Fonds P228 - Vernon Isaac fonds

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Vernon Isaac fonds

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  • Multiple media

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  • [193-?]-2000 (Creation)
    Isaac, Vernon

Physical description area

Physical description

ca. 1600 photographs : b&w or col. prints and negatives
ca. 40 cm of textual records
20 moving images
19 sound recordings
7 objects

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Vernon Clarence Isaac, a jazz musician and bandleader, was born in Pittsburg, Texas on October 21, 1913 as the first child of the storekeeper Arthur Lee Isaac and Helen D. Isaac Williamson. In 1922, his family moved to Oklahoma City.

Vernon and his nine brothers and sisters grew up in a musical environment with their father and mother both playing mostly religious music on piano and organ. At age 14, Vernon Isaac was playing piano, violin and clarinet and started saxophone. With 16, he dropped out of high school, to travel around the United States for about ten years, playing alto and tenor saxophone with jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.

Vernon Isaac married Ester Geraldine Wonowity (Gerry Isaac) in 1942. They had three children : Richard, Jean and Francine. In 1942, Isaac was also drafted to the U.S. Army’s 92nd Colored Division. There he led the 37th Special Services Band. In 1946, after being discharged from the army, Isaac returned to Philadelphia where he formed the jazz group "Three Jacks and a Jill." Vernon Isaac came to Canada for the first time in 1948 while he was on tour with "Three Jacks and a Jill." Few years later, in 1951, Isaac moved to Canada, settling in Montreal where he remained for 25 years. Until "Three Jacks and a Jill" disbanded, he toured in Ontario and the Maritimes. Later, he played mostly in Montreal at the Montmartre and with Allan Wellman at Rockhead's Paradise. Also at Rockhead's Paradise, he helped organize the show ‘Ebony in Rhythm’ in 1964. At the same time, he led some smaller bands, like the L.V.J. Trio, named after Lem Neal, Vernon Isaac and Jimmy Valdez, and went on tour again.

In 1973, Vernon Isaac moved to Ottawa, where he became a founding member of the oldest non-profit organization in Canada to promote jazz, Ottawa jazz, in 1975. Ottawa Jazz helped to promote, preserve and present jazz in the Ottawa area until its dissolution in 1996. It had a major impact on the Ottawa Jazz scene, by organizing jazz sessions and supporting clubs like La Paloma, Beacon Arms Hotel, The Penguin, Mr. Keith’s MacDonald Club, as well as the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

In the 1980s, Vernon Isaac established the Vernon Isaac Big Band, and in 1985, he participated in the St. Michel All-Stars at Le Grand Café in Montreal.

Vernon Isaac died in Gatineau, Québec on December 16, 1999.

Custodial history

The fonds was transferred from Concordia University's Records Management and Archives Department to Concordia University Libraries' Special Collections March 16, 2016, April 12-13, 2016, April 19-20, 2016, April 26, 2016, May 5, 2016, and May 10, 2016.

Scope and content

The materials in the fonds document Vernon Isaac’s life as a jazz musician and the Canadian jazz scene of the 1970s to 1990s. The fonds also contains information about Vernon Isaac’s family.

The fonds includes personal documents, photographs of Vernon Isaac’s family, friends and other performers, press clippings, programs, posters, commemorative plaques, and sound and audiovisual recordings of Vernon Isaac.

The fonds is organized into the following series:
P0228/A. Textual records
P0228/B. Scrapbooks, photo albums and other graphic material
P0228/C Audio-visual material
P0228/D Objects

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The documents were kept by Susan Galvin, a friend of Vernon Isaac. She donated them to Concordia University's Records Management and Archives Department in November 2008 and May 2013.


Language of material

  • English

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    Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

    In most cases, reproduction for research or private study is permitted. Use of material in publications cannot be done without permission of the copyright holder.

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    No further accruals expected.

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