Friday, September 08, 2006

Don Vappie, "American Creole" New Orleans Musician

This link will take you to the Louisiana Public Broadcasting web page about a wonderful documentary I watched on PBS last night, American Creole: New Orleans Reunion, about the efforts of Don Vappie, N'Awlins banjo specialist & all-around musician (from a family boasting professional musicians for the past century!) to regroup his Creole Dixieland jazz band, The Creole Jazz Serenaders, as well as his life, after Hurricane Katrina. (I know the feeling.)

The film contains feel-good music, sobering & uplifting emotions, & fascinating glimpses into the cultural & racial fabric of America's unique city. The comments of Vappie's family & friends regarding their mixed ethnicities should inspire all us Americans to think long & hard before we spout off any supposed certainties on race & color. To quote the above-mentioned web page:

While Don was displaced by Katrina for only a month, more than half of his eight sidemen saw their houses destroyed. All were forced to evacuate to distant cities. Don scrambles to keep his band alive by taking what gigs he can. On the road, Don wonders if he would be better off living somewhere else, like New York. But can he really leave New Orleans, his home? Don’s questions lead him to friends, mentors, and fellow musicians, each affected by Katrina in his or her own way. They offer views on what it means to be from New Orleans and what it means to be a Creole of Color, a racial and cultural mix of African-American, French, Spanish, and Native American ancestry, with a rich history in Louisiana. With even his family members unable to agree, the answers he finds are as varied as the cultures that make up his heritage.

As a musician, my own favorite moment from the documentary has to be the joke-riddle that Don tells about his instrument:

Q.--What's the difference between an Uzi & a banjo?
A.--An Uzi only repeats 40 times.


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