Everett’s Own Jazz Legend Al Vega Dies at 90
EVERETT – Al Vega, one of the most beloved musicians in Massachusetts history with a career that spanned more than 70 years, has died at the age of 90.
“He had such a well-known and established name,” notes Ron Della Chiesa, a longtime friend and host of 99.1 WPLM FM’s Strictly Sinatra Saturday & MusicAmerica Sunday.
“He exemplified the best of what being a good citizen is about. He was truly a humanitarian in his heart.”
A native of Worcester, Vega was born Aram Vagramian and began to really establish his career as the house pianist at the Hi-Hat jazz club. Vega played both the piano and vibraphone, recording hundreds of tracks as a pianist and backup artist.
He played alongside some of the most legendary jazz artists, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, with the local media dubbing Vega as Boston’s Living Legend of Jazz.
Most recently, Vega led his own trio, playing Frank Sinatra tunes every Sunday at Lucky’s Lounge.
“Al had an amazing staying power. He was tenacious,” adds Della Chiesa.
“He built a huge following on Sunday nights at Lucky’s. Here’s a guy in his late eighties playing for an audience in their twenties and thirties, and they loved him!”
In 2010, Vega’s trio was even featured during a scene in the Kevin James comedy, The Zookeeper.
Vega died at Massachusetts General Hospital on Friday according to an MGH spokesperson who declined to comment on the cause of death, however, sources have confirmed he had recently fallen ill and been receiving medical treatment.
Vega was not only an influential musician, but also a dedicated citizen. He was drafted into the Army in 1942 where he met his wife, Martha, while stationed at Camp Lee in Virginia.
After his release from the service in 1946, Vega settled down on Foster Street in Everett where he lived with his wife until her passing in 2000 after 55 years of marriage. Vega continued to reside in the city until his death this week.
“Al was truly an all-around great guy,” Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. reflected in an interview Saturday morning. “He was an inspiration to young children, to musicians, and to all of Everett. We’re all going to miss him.”
Vega was a friend to generations of residents in Everett, where he served as a longtime Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball coach. He started coaching when his son Alan began playing.
Over a nearly fifty-year span, Vega won numerous city championships, even mentoring future leaders of the community, including Mayor DeMaria, Alderman Mike Marchese and Everett High School’s legendary athletic director & football coach John DiBiaso.
“Al Vega was more than a coach to Everett Babe Ruth. He was a leader, teacher and friend,” Everett Babe Ruth President David Devanna said on Saturday.
“Coach Vega touched many young players lives and helped mold many of them into the men that they are today. Everett Babe Ruth benefited through his leadership, intellect and selflessness.”
In 2008, the league dedicated the league championship trophy in his honor, naming it the “The Vega Cup”.
Devanna recalled a recent conversation with Vega who noted how he had been looking forward to coaching his 50th and final season in 2012, leaving a dream unrealized.
In addition to guiding youth on the field, Vega maintained a steady stream of music students as well, providing basic and advanced voice and piano instruction at his home studio in Everett. Vega has also been credited with helping launch the careers of many local talents, including vocalist Rebecca Paris and saxophone player Grace Kelley, according to Della Chiesa.
The City of Everett recently honored Vega, naming a square in recognition of his accomplishments as a veteran, musician, and volunteer.
Vega had been scheduled to perform at Sculler’s Jazz Club in January. The event will go on according to Della Chiesa, serving as a memorial to Vega.
“January’s event is really going to be about celebrating Al’s wonderful life. His passing is the end of an era.”