A Light on the Path
The impromptu jazz performance included two Grammy-nominated guitarists, Tim Reynolds of Dave Matthews Band fame and Stanley Jordan. What made this evening possible was a third guitarist playing that night, the one who rules the room at Art’s Place each Monday: Joe Mapp.
Long ago, when Mapp was a bike messenger in New York City, he would stop and have lunch in a park on the East Side, where he would listen to a young Stanley Jordan working on his jazz guitar technique.
“He was playing in a park with his case open for tips,” Mapp says. “A lot of times I’d be the first one to put a dollar in his case.”
“The randomness of how people’s orbits connect is fascinating,” Mapp says. “It still freaks me out to this day.”
These days Mapp continues to seek out and support budding musicians while spreading his influence one note at a time.
Clues to the pivotal role of Mapp’s influence on the Outer Banks music community emerged in the summer of 2010, when it seemed that the face of the local music scene was changing. Wet Betty, fronted by Becky Kessler, had taken the beach by storm. Fresh, musical, original and inevitable, Wet Betty’s shows attracted young and old, and the enthusiasm for these homegrown players buzzed all season. The following summer two new bands emerged, The Hound Dogs Family Band and Zack Mexico, more young local musicians staking their claim, spreading a renewed sense of style and musical invention. All of these bands shared a common bond: Each consisted of students of Joe Mapp.
Originally from Annandale, Va., Mapp cut his musical teeth playing around Washington.
“I was playing the topless bars around Route 1 when I was about 15,” he says.
After his sister married New York jazz bassist Harvie S, Mapp himself migrated to the city in 1980 to study and learn from the great players there at that time. At 55 Grand, a dive bar in the West Village, Mapp absorbed jazz by listening to David Sanborn, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, the Brecker Brothers and many more.
“Everyone was playing,” he recalls. “It was a fertile, fruitful time of music in New York City. A lot of really great players — musicians I’d see on TV.”
At 55 Grand, Mapp hung out and shared drinks with most of the jazz luminaries of our time, frequently spending his last dollar on the cover charge.
“I was fearless,” he says.
A friendship with guitarist and mentor Mike Stern inspired Mapp to further his jazz education, and in 1983 he enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston for a dual major in arranging and guitar performance. He was 26 years old and completely consumed with learning, practicing and playing.
Mapp remained at Berklee for five semesters before returning to his roots in D.C. to apply his newfound knowledge and growing passion for jazz. He remained there for four years, developing his new role as a teacher, continuing his studies with Stern and finding inspiration in the many great players in and around D.C.
He arrived on the Outer Banks the way many folks do, on a wave of unfolding circumstances and a little bit of luck. In 1985 Mapp’s father built a home in Southern Shores, and Mapp began visiting regularly. After witnessing an excess of violence in D.C., he found the quiet beauty of the Outer Banks too alluring to stay away. He moved here.
Music on the Outer Banks was a far cry from his New York, Boston and D.C. playing fields.
It was immediately evident that Mapp’s studied, scholarly, methodical approach to playing was unlike anything else available to the blossoming Outer Banks scene. It wasn’t long before he found kindred spirits in bassist Mick Vaughan and drummer Dan Martier, both educated in music and professional musicians in their own right. Through 16 years of playing together as the trio Joe Mapp and the Coordinates, the three musicians cultivated an invaluable playing field on the Outer Banks, attracting musicians from all of the country to their stage and fostering new musical relationships.
All along Mapp has shared his talent and skill through teaching. Mapp’s young Outer Banks students had a genuine talent shine a light on their path, and now they are the new generation of creators on the scene.
Kessler, now living in Connecticut and recently awarded Best Singer/Songwriter at the 2012 Connecticut Music Awards, says she’s amazed at what Mapp can “coax out of a chord.” She says she was deeply influenced by the sound of Mapp’s tone and voicing.
“Any time you play with him you want to play and practice and get better,” she says. “When he plays everyone feels it, even if they can’t understand the music.”
Following in Mapp’s footsteps, Kessler is also a student at Berklee and is now teaching as well as playing, recording and writing, and she will soon release her debut album.
Four of Mapp’s advanced students have been accepted to, attended or graduated from Berklee. Several others are music majors at East Carolina University. Most of them are paying it forward by teaching.
Matthew Wentz, guitarist for Zack Mexico and a guitar teacher, began studying with Mapp at the age of 10 and calls him “one of my main influences.”
Ed Tupper — the bassist for Wet Betty and The Hound Dogs Family Band and also the owner of a Kitty Hawk recording studio — says of Mapp, “He turned me on to a bunch of jazz at an early age and all kinds of stuff I never thought about. I got into Berklee on his recommendation. He made me a better player.”
Mapp describes his students as musicians with “voracious appetites to learn about music.” Because his students play at “a pretty high level,” Mapp says, “they’ve had a big influence on their own high school music programs, creating a lot of interest in music and being instrumental in getting a high school jazz band launched.”
While Mapp continues to create and teach and play gigs up and down the Outer Banks, he can be found playing most Mondays at Art’s Place.
“I love Art’s Place,” he says. “It immediately seemed to click. It’s been really fun for everyone. The standing-room-only crowd seems to love everything we play. Art’s Place is to Kitty Hawk what 55 Grand was to Greenwich Village.”