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Don Vappie and Jazz Creole

Legendary Banjo Artist Brings New Orleans Heat to Kelowna


By Neville Bowman

Special to the Daily Courier

Kelowna was given a little bit of southern warmth on a cool rainy night in late-May, with a performance by Don Vappie and Jazz Creole. Featuring Don Vappie on a traditional four-string banjo, the quartet brought the sounds of New Orleans to the Kelowna Community Concert Association's final presentation of the 2022-23 season at the Kelowna Community Theatre, rounding out more than decades of KCCA support with a fun, relaxed energy and that indefinable melancholy that southern music can have.


It seemed to take the audience a while to warm up to the sound, but Vappie had a laid-back stage stage presence that won them over, after which the music held them. KCCA audiences have always recognized and appreciated high-quality musicianship, and this quartet really delivered. 


Don Vappie himself is a multi-award-winning legend, and a brief conversation after the show revealed that he regularly works with some true jazz royalty. David Horniblow on clarinet was remarkable in his control and dynamic use; it was lovely to hear a clarinet played so well. David Kelbie on rhythm guitar was amazing, playing the role so precisely, creating the foundation for the others. And, on bass, Tom Wheatley was a crowd pleaser, using techniques unique to such jazz and always getting a good response to his solos. 


The banjo is an instrument that is admittedly not taken as seriously as some, not helped in part by media depictions of both music and some banjo players. Its origins go back to parts of Africa, and Vappie does an excellent job of presenting it as a lead instrument in its own right, worthy of respect. More traditional songs, such as Redwing and La Ville Jacmel, gave the listener the expected sound of a banjo, but others, such as Abandon (a crowd favourite), displayed the more melodic capabilities. Some of my favourites, written by Vappie himself, showcased the harmonic complexity available.


Don Vappie is great with an audience — relaxed (perhaps more casual than we are used to) but inviting you into his world. It's obvious he really loves this music (and why not?), at times getting the audience to sing along in response, which went surprisingly well. There is a lot of history behind creole jazz; Vappie has a way of showing respect for that, while also incorporating newer elements into it, which is, of course, what jazz and creole are — a "gumbo" of a multitude of styles and voices. The performance I saw definitely convinced me that I have to get down to New Orleans to experience more of it, at the source!


As mentioned earlier, this was the last KCCA concert of the 2022/23 season in the current venue. (The final concert of the 2021/22 season, featuring True North Brass, has been postponed more than once and has yet to be rescheduled.) Next season will be presented at a new location, the Evangel Church Auditorium, which has room for more people, so season passes remain available. Early-bird pricing of $100 expires May 31, when the cost of a season pass rises to $120. 


Given the high calibre of the concerts brought in, it's a remarkably good deal for five shows. With performers such as Don Vappie and Jazz Creole on the roster, I highly recommend a membership in the KCCA. These are musicians of the highest level, excellent ambassadors for a style of music that is less familiar here in the valley, and a prime example of the quality and variety we get to see with the KCCA. For more information, contact Deb Meldram at (250) 765-3571. See you next season!

Neville Bowman is a local actor and musician


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