When disco took over the music scene in the ’80’s, Don Vappie didn’t think he would ever pick up the banjo, or any other instrument, again.
Luckily, that time in his life wouldn’t last too long. Three months later, he found himself playing again.
Today, Vappie is one of the world’s most renowned jazz musicians. He and his band, the Creole Jazz Serenaders, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Manship Theatre. The performance is part of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge's River City Jazz Masters series. Tickets range from $25-$45.
When he’s not recording or performing with his band, Vappie is instructing jazz guitar at Loyola University in New Orleans. However, Vappie never really planned on being an educator.
“What happened was, basically, I’d go in with a five- or six-piece band and do some New Orleans jazz for these kids,” he said. “I would ask the kids questions like, ‘Which one of these instruments came from Africa?’ None of them would ever guess the right answer — the banjo."
In these performances, Vappie quickly learned there was a huge gap in music education. A few years later, Loyola contacted Vappie about becoming an instructor. At first, he was a little confused. He had never taught, but nevertheless, he began compiling his résumé. It was then that Vappie saw everything he had done in the music world.
Throughout his career, Vappie has played with Peggy Lee, Joel Gray, Carol Channing, Bette Midler and Eric Clapton. He also has been a part of programs at places such as Carnegie Hall and the Smithsonian. He even performed banjo for the newly-released, live action remake of "The Jungle Book."
“Back then, I wasn’t necessarily a teacher. What I realized though, in doing some of those programs, I was teaching,” Vappie said.
His work doesn't stop in the classrooms, either. In playing with the Creole Jazz Serenaders, Vappie said he is showing people a crucial part of history. To Vappie, there’s a certain genius in this New Orleans-style music he plays that can’t be forgotten.
“Just going along with pop culture without exposure is wrong,” he said. “Cuts in music programs are hurting us, intellectually and culturally.”
That is just one reason why Vappie thinks his band is such a special group.
“We’re doing not just old jazz, but New Orleans kind of music, too ... important stuff that evolved from New Orleans,” he said. “We come in there to share music, to share feelings. We’re not choreographed. It’s truly a live music experience.”
RIVER CITY JAZZ MASTERS PRESENTS DON VAPPIE AND THE CREOLE JAZZ SERENADERS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge