Features and Appearances
Traditional jazz musician Don Vappie has got to have one of the most unusual resumés in the genre. In the 1960s and '70s, he played electric bass in the funk group Trac One before he took up playing the traditional jazz and Creole tunes of his own heritage.
Born into a Creole family in 1956, Don Vappie grew up with the music of his elegant culture. Like so many New Orleans musicians, music runs in his genes. His relatives include early jazz greats Papa John Joseph and Willie "Kaiser" Joseph. He started playing music as a young boy, first on piano and then becoming conversant with a number of instruments, including bass and guitar, before settling on the tenor banjo as his instrument of choice. He has played and toured with such jazz luminaries as Wynton Marsalis and Dr. Michael White, appearing on a number of their CDs. They are all together on the great live recording New Year's Eve Live at the Village Vanguard. The banjo player fronts his own band, called the Creole Jazz Serenaders, and they have put out two outstanding CDs.
On Creole Jazz, they eschew the time-honored standards in favor of more obscure early jazz and Creole tunes, bringing to life music from artists like Jabbo Smith, Harry Bonnano, and Harry Shields, as well as early jazz giants Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and Sidney Bechet. The band plays old chestnuts like "Peculiar," "Short Dress Gal," and "Red Hot Pepper Stomp," revealing the pieces for the hot dance music it once was and still is. The multi-talented Vappie plays tenor and six-string banjo, guitar, bass, vocals, and washboard on the CD.
Vappie, who hosts a traditional jazz show on the renowned New Orleans radio station WWOZ, possesses a wealth of information about the traditional jazz idiom. That knowledge came to rare fruition in a project that began in 1998, when he was approached by jazz producer Robert Parker. Working with newly discovered material by King Oliver, the two set about re-creating the music and feel of that era in jazz history when Louis Armstrong was the new kid on the block in Oliver's band. Vappie transcribed the music, filling in blanks with the right touch. The result is a monumental work entitled In Search of King Oliver. It was recorded live at the acoustically perfect St. Joan of Arc's Church in New Orleans. Drawing on their cultural imprinting, the Creole Serenaders capture the rhythm and feel of that golden era of jazz. Included are some Oliver classics, such as "High Society Rag," but much of it is never before recorded music, such as "I'm Going Away to Wear You Off My Mind," that should be of great interest to early jazz afficionados. Vappie continues his contributions to the traditional jazz genre by making music from an era that will never be again, but can be conjured up through a select group of musical magicians. Papa Don Vappie stands in that number.