More Famous Creoles ......Click here
Famous Creoles
Rosette Rochon
  Harold Doley
  Andre Cailloux
  Dr. Roudanez
  Francis E. Dumas
  Jean Baptiste Du Sable
  Jelly Roll Morton
  Fats Domino
  Henriette Delille
  General Beauregard
  Norbert Rillieux
  Louis Moreau Gottschalk
  Rose Nicaud
  Morris W. Morris
  Edmonde Dede
  Louis A. Snaer
  Don Vappie
  John Audobon
  Joan Bennett
  Jean Lafitte
  Morton Downey Jr.
  Julien Hudson
  Illinois Jacquet
  Bryant C. Gumbel
  Marie Laveau
  Gilbert E. Martin
  Rudolphe Lucien Desdunes
  Ernest Morial
  Bill Picket
  Bishop Healy
  John Willis Menard
  Homer Plessy
  Ward Connerly
AP Tureaud
  Bishop Olivier
  George Herriman
  Alexander Dumas

Don Vappie

Creole Musician / Entertainer



Think of "traditional" or "classic" New Orleans jazz and what comes to mind? The scratches, hisses, and pops of a mono recording from the dawn of the recording era? A group of venerable musicians faithfully playing the same old tunes, "The Saints," "Down By The Riverside," etc., according to the same old formula: play the melody, take solos, repeat the melody? Did you just stifle a yawn?




His official Web Site..Click here


Well, that's changing now, thanks to Don Vappie and his group of "Creole Jazz Serenaders," who, like an afternoon dose of café au lait and beignets, are putting the life back into this great artform.

What makes them different? The choice of tunes for one thing. A gong ceremoniously opens Creole Blues, their debut album. The first cut is "Peculiar," a tune written by the largely forgotten Harry Bonano and Harry Shields, and the record continues to delight with lost gems by the likes of Jabbo Smith ("The Dizzy Gillespie of that era"), Papa Charlie Jackson and, rarest of all, a few traditional French Creole tunes, such as the title cut.


Vappie, who plays tenor and six-string banjo, guitar, bass, vocals and washboard on the record, had grown tired of playing the old stand-bys. "Why keep playing 'Bill Bailey'?" he questioned. "Not that 'Bill Bailey' is a bad song, but I mean, that's what it's turned into. People come to New Orleans, they want to hear 'The Saints,' 'Down by the Riverside,' 'St. James Infirmary,' 'Tiger Rag'... You know, all of those tunes are great, but that's just a small part of the galaxy... That's just like one address in a city."

He and his wife, Milly, a cultural historian, went in search of tunes that capture "the real spirit of early jazz." They mined collections in New York and Europe, where it is revered more so than in its native New Orleans, and discovered wonders like Sam Morgan's "Short Dressed Gal."

This song has a fresh, "double-dutch" rhythmic quality that makes it jump with spunk. Suddenly you can understand why, even though it is structurally complex, this was hot dance music. "See, that's 1927 or 28, but to me, that's funk," says Vappie. "And it does not fit the rules that people set down for a traditional New Orleans jazz band, yet these guys [Sam Morgan's band] were one of the most popular groups around."

Born in 1956, Vappie comes from the unique Creole heritage of New Orleans that is so often overlooked (Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver were Creole). His great-uncles "Papa" John and Willie "Kaiser" Joseph were among the earliest jazz musicians, and their descendent, Stanley Joseph, Vappie's long time drummer, is proof that music still runs strong in the Joseph blood.



It may seem strange now, but Vappie came of age musically in the late-sixties and seventies, and first gained notoriety as the electric bassist for the popular funk group, Trac One. Surprisingly, he sees this experience as training for what he does now. "A bass line in a funk group, you lay down a certain thing, and the combination of all these things together creates the funk. And that's so similar to New Orleans jazz.

Everybody's got a role, a part to play...You know, when I was growing up it might have been the last generation of bands, where you had the same guys in the band pretty much all the time and the band had it's own identity. And that is traditional New Orleans, that is in the tradition of King Oliver. No, we weren't playing 1920's pop music, which is early jazz, we were playing 70's pop music, but we were doing it in the New Orleans tradition. That is tradition, not having your shoes spit shined, and wearing a suit from the fifties, and sounding like George Lewis. That is not tradition. That is copycat."

Vappie's band today is composed of Victor Goines (sax/clarinet), Jamil Sharif (trumpet), Larry Sieberth (piano), Tom Fischer (sax/clarinet), Stanley Joseph (drums) and Richard Moten (bass). These are extremely versatile young musicians with backgrounds ranging from classical to modern jazz. Instead of focusing on the solos for inspiration, they focus on the joyous ensemble playing that was actually popular at that time in New Orleans.  

Instead of trying to duplicate the exact phrasing and instrumentation of the original music, they use that period's stylistic ingredients more creatively. On "Short Dressed Gal," for example, Vappie spices it up with a "walking" rhythmic line on his banjo which wasn't in the original music, but was a popular device of that era.



"To me, that's what traditional jazz is about, if you want to call it that. It's about, okay, what kinds of things did guys do in that period? The banjo did these things, there were breaks, modulations.

Okay, incorporate all the aspects of the style, and you can play any song you want. You can play 'I Feel Good' by James Brown if you incorporate all the style. It's a matter of how you arrange it, you know? Because it's not about a repertoire, it's about a style."This philosophy has served the Creole Jazz Serenaders well. Creole Blues has received good reviews in such unlikely places as the folk magazine Dirty Linen, and their performances have demonstrated a wider audience.

Their first Jazz Fest in '96, they were scheduled at 12:30 on Thursday, hardly a choice slot, but by the third tune the tent was overflowing. When they finished, people jumped out of their chairs to give a rousing ovation. This year they close out the Economy Hall tent on Sunday, May 3rd from 5:15 - 7pm. For that show, and on April 29, 30 and May 1st at 8pm at Le Petit Theater, they will present "The Lost Manuscripts of Jelly Roll Morton."



This will be the world premiere of Morton compositions which recently turned up in Bill Russell's jazz collection (currently on display at The Historic New Orleans Collection), including advanced big band arrangements Morton wrote before his death. According to Milly Vappie, the musicians were "stunned" during rehearsals to discover that Morton could write such intricate, "out there" material.For the Le Petit Theater shows (and not at the Fairgrounds) the Serenaders will also unveil the music from their latest major project, In Search of King Oliver.

This record is a collaboration with Robert Parker, the famous Australian producer/sound-engineer and host of Public Radio International's syndicated series "Jazz Classics in Stereo."Parker, who has spent his life re-engineering classic jazz records so that they could be enjoyed by a modern audience in stereo, discovered Vappie's band only a year and half ago, but immediately recognized the opportunity to complete a life long dream: "To hear what the King Oliver band would have sounded like if you could have heard it in Chicago in 1923, instead of having to listen to the really truncated sound which comes off the early horn recorded 78's."In 1923, a young Louis Armstrong had recently joined King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in Chicago.

The records they made are essential links to jazz origins, when, as Parker says, "the music was so inventive, so vital and so young." The problem is that the sound quality of these recordings is especially bad; some instruments fade in and out and the drums and bass can hardly be heard.For many years, Parker dreamt of recreating these recordings under the right conditions, but he knew it would take someone who could flesh out the arrangements and play with the right spirit.

"It needed someone like Don Vappie to emerge," he says, "and it could only happen here [in New Orleans], which is so fascinating. I could have tried to do this with a group of British musicians and it wouldn't have worked. Because there is a cultural input to this music which is still very much alive here. Don and his cousins who make up the rest of the rhythm section, they're all of a mind. They've grown up all their lives hearing the rhythmic patterns of New Orleans jazz, which pervade everything here, still."Vappie puts it another way:

"We grow up with a natural ability to feel rhythm in New Orleans. I mean we live it. We live the rhythm in New Orleans."After testing a variety of locations for the perfect acoustics, Parker and the Serenaders went into the St. Joan of Arc church in Uptown New Orleans last December to record the King Oliver music, which had been painstakingly transcribed and arranged by Vappie. Wherever something was missing on the records, a section of a cornet line, for instance, he brilliantly "filled in the blanks." Together with his band, he managed to unlock the vibrant energy imbedded in the music. It's like a statue come to life.

"To get back to what King Oliver was doing is really exciting," says Parker, who is putting out only 1,000 signed editions of In Search of King Oliver in its first printing (they will be available at the Le Petit Theater shows). "Because this is really complex, difficult music, that can only be played by the most accomplished and skilled musicians, which those guys in 1923 were."

For Vappie, he didn't originally see the need to resurrect songs like "High Society," because they are already so well known, but now he feels differently. "It was a real thrill to hear it. I thought, man, this is counterpoint at its best. It sounded so New Orleans to me.

Songs like 'I'm Going Away To Wear You Off My Mind' and 'Canal St. Blues,' they're beautiful. If I close my eyes I can hear the streetcar rocking back and forth. That's how connected this whole thing feels to me."

Questions, Comments, Dead Links? Email Webmaster
**All articles taken from selected reading materials are the sole property of the authors listed. In no way are these articles credited to this site. The material presented is only a brief presentation of writings from the publisher & producer of each article.
Copyright French Creoles of America®, All Rights Reserved