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 Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
Horace Tapscott 
Horace Tapscott
Lung CancerFeb 27, 1999
 Age 64
OBITUARY 
BIOGRAPHY  
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DISCOGRAPHY                 Photo: Horace at Work
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
        
       
 NY TIMES
    
          Horace Tapscott, Jazz Pianist and Community Advocate,  64

          By BEN RATLIFF 

               Horace Tapscott, whose accomplishments as a jazz pianist and band leader were matched by his legacy as a local community organizer, died on Saturday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 64.  

          The cause was cancer, his manager and publicist, Corine Hunter, said.  

          Few jazz musicians with an individual style and a recognized name reject the promise of an international solo career, but Tapscott, for the most part, stayed at home.  

          His anchor was the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (Ugmaa), a collective he set up in the Watts neighborhood in 1961 to find employment for musicians, dancers and visual artists in Los Angeles.  

          He also taught and guided hundreds of youths who could not afford music lessons. One of his methods of teaching young students was to enlist them in his Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, a group he conducted, supplied with compositions and kept together until his death.  

          Tapscott was born in Houston and was taken to Los Angeles at the age of 9 by his mother, a stride pianist and tuba player named Mary Lou Malone. They lived close to Local 767, the city's black musicians union, and he often spent time around older musicians and friends of the family like Buddy Collette and Gerald Wilson.  

          As a teen-ager, Tapscott was a trombone player during the golden era of Central Avenue, which was the Los Angeles equivalent of New York's 125th Street -- a mecca of black American entrepreneurship and entertainment.  

          Among his friends were soon-to-be-famous young players from the area, including the trumpeter Don Cherry, the saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Frank Morgan and the clarinetist John Carter.  

          But by the early 1950's the scene had changed: the black and white musicians' unions integrated, enabling blacks to find work playing on film and television soundtracks, and simultaneously the Central Avenue clubs sputtered out.  

          After spending four years in the United States Air Force during the 1950's, Tapscott began to think about new ways that jazz could gain some measure of respect and support within the black population of Los Angeles; a disillusioning tour of the South that he took with Lionel Hampton's big band in 1958 sharpened those ideas and led him to organize his own union.  

          The organization limped along until 1965, when the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles erupted in riots. Tapscott and his Arkestra rode through the thick of it, playing on the backs of flatbed trucks. In the aftermath of the riots, the union got some state and Federal funding, and the Arkestra began to cohere through weekly performances, often in universities and churches.  

          In 1968, Tapscott composed and arranged music for a memorable album by the alto saxophonist Sonny Criss called "Birth of the New Cool." The first recording under his own name, "The Giant Is Awakened," appeared in 1969 and introduced the saxophonist Arthur Blythe, who would become an important player in New York a decade later.  

          The Arkestra was not recorded until 1978, and despite all its continuous activity -- musicians like David Murray, Butch Morris and Azar Lawrence were members for a time -- it never became a touring band; its first European concert was in 1995. ( Tapscott himself had never played a significant concert in New York until he was booked at the Village Vanguard in the summer of 1991.)  

          He began playing the piano in the late 1950's, after a car crash that weakened his embouchure for the trombone. He developed a loose-limbed, Thelonious Monk-inspired style, with banged dissonances and dark, seductive harmonies; it suited the percussive vamps and odd time signatures of his writing. 
  
          Seven of his recordings since the mid-70's were released by the small record label Nimbus; other recordings since the 80's appeared on the Hat Hut and Arabesque labels.  

          The latest, from 1997, is the trio recording "Thoughts of Dar es Salaam."  

          Tapscott is survived by his wife, Cecilia; a sister, Robbie Byrd of Dallas; nine children; 21 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.  
    
 

 
 
                  Jazz Track
                  Progressive Pianist/Composer Horace Tapscott Dies At 64 
 
                   by Drew Wheeler 

                  Horace Tapscott, a pianist and composer whose
                  unique approach to avant-garde jazz earned him
                  legendary status despite his lack of name
                  recognition, died of cancer in Los Angeles on Feb.
                  27. He was 64. 

                  Tapscott's idiosyncratic style of modern jazz was
                  not neatly categorized. It drew harmonic elements
                  from multiple eras of jazz, while keeping a
                  pervasive sense of rhythm that may have run
                  against the grain of the experimental avant-garde.
                  But Tapscott's music was also inextricably tied in
                  with activism for his Los Angeles community. 

                  "He just nurtured the neighborhood," said
                  Tapscott's manager Corine Hunter. "He pulled kids
                  off the street like Roberto Miranda, who was about
                  to get hung up in gangs.  Horace pulled him in off the
                  street at the age of 19 and told him, 'Hey, boy, play this
                  bass.' And he's been Horace's bass player ever
                  since." Tapscott's involvement in his community
                  took the form of his musical ensemble, the
                  Pan-Afrikan People's Arkestra, and activist arts
                  association Union of God's Musician and Artist
                  Ascension (UGMA). 

                  Horace Tapscott was born in Houston in 1934, and
                  moved to Los Angeles in 1945. His mother, Mary
                  Malone Tapscott, was a singer, pianist, tuba player
                  and band leader. His mother's musical
                  associations brought a young Tapscott in contact
                  with Local 767, the black musicians' union, where
                  he would meet local luminaries like Gerald Wilson
                  or Buddy Collette. He attended Jefferson High
                  School in Los Angeles, where his music teacher
                  was Dr. Samuel R. Browne, who had also taught
                  Frank Morgan, Art and Addison Farmer, Dexter
                  Gordon and Sonny Criss. 

                  After graduating high school in the early 1950s,
                  Tapscott married Cecilia Payne and played
                  trombone for Wilson, but subsequently joined the
                  Air Force. Stationed in Wyoming, he played in the
                  Air Force Band. Upon his return to Los Angeles,
                  Tapscott joined the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, with
                  which he toured into the early 1960s. (On one road
                  trip to New York, Tapscott looked up his old friend
                  Eric Dolphy, who introduced him to John Coltrane.)
                  Tapscott was injured in an auto accident, that led
                  him to give up the trombone, and focus exclusively
                  on the piano. It has also been said that he was
                  happy to retire from the road after some unpleasant
                  experiences as a black musician touring the South.

                  Back in Los Angeles for good with his wife and
                  children, Tapscott formed the Pan-Afrikan People's
                  Arkestra and UGMA. One of his earliest musical
                  associates was saxophonist Arthur Blythe.
                  "Through some other friends I had met him," said
                  Blythe. "We were young men together, we were
                  studying together. We were seeking out the
                  music." Other notable Arkestra members include
                  David Murray, Butch Morris and Azar Lawrence. 

                  Blythe remembers Tapscott for "His originality. His
                  integrity. What he stood for with the music, his
                  honesty about that. That was probably one of the
                  main things, his honesty and his ethnicity about
                  the music . . . We dug the history of American
                  black music." 

                  Tapscott belonged to no obvious "school" of jazz,
                  according to Blythe, but rather "He was a rounded
                  musician. He used to play piano for Diana Ross at
                  one time. He played all sorts of music, it wasn't
                  just the avant-garde. Sometimes that happened,
                  people put him in that bag, but he played rhythm &
                  blues too . . . He was an accomplished
                  musician--reading and writing and orchestration,
                  band-leading. He had that leadership quality about
                  him." 

                  And Tapscott led his Pan-Afrikan People's Arkestra
                  into the cultural life of Tapscott's Los Angeles
                  neighborhood. During the destructive Watts riots of
                  1965, Tapscott and the Arkestra played from a
                  flatbed truck in an attempt to calm the seething
                  neighborhood. But Tapscott would find that his
                  activism had its price. 

                  "Some of the members in the Pan-Afrikan People's
                  Arkestra were also Black Panthers," said Hunter.
                  "And Horace ran this
                  organization called UGMA.
                  UGMA was an umbrella for
                  artists, poets, dancers, all
                  the creative people in the
                  minority neighborhood. He
                  took it upon himself to find
                  employment for them. He
                  had a venue where they
                  could come and express
                  their art on a 24-hour basis .
                  . . So with the upheaval and
                  all the stuff that was going on then, the police were
                  always harassing them. And so word kind of got
                  out that he was a militant and blah blah blah blah
                  blah, and so Motown stopped calling him for
                  recordings. He got blacklisted in Los Angeles.
                  Nobody would hire him to work." 

                  "The '60s thing was just one entity of his life and a
                  very small portion of it," said Hunter. "But Horace
                  was always dedicated to his community. Reaching
                  the people in the community was more important to
                  him than becoming an overnight success." For a
                  brief time, he taught at Riverside Community
                  College, but found that he didn't fit in well with the
                  strictures of academe. 

                  One interested listener to Tapscott's music was the
                  critic and author Stanley Crouch, who likened his
                  music to that of "Andrew Hill and Herbie Nichols
                  and Hasaan Ibn Ali, the way those guys played. It
                  was all kind of like a spin-off of Thelonious
                  Monk--he was kind of the connecting figure in all of
                  that." 

                  And yet to Crouch, Tapscott sounded only like
                  Tapscott. "He played in New York and played at
                  the Vanguard a couple of times," recalled Crouch.
                  "He played so much piano, and played so many
                  different ways. He had such a wide book--he really
                  didn't sound like these guys in New York played . .
                  . " As opposed to the pervasive influences of
                  McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, said
                  Crouch, "His thing was bigger. It had elements of
                  stride piano and Duke Ellington, whom he had
                  followed around. He told me when he was in the
                  Army in the early '50s, Ellington was traveling the
                  Midwest and he figured out a way to follow the
                  band around when it was doing these
                  one-nighters." 

                  Throughout the '60s and '70s, Tapscott recorded
                  sporadically. He was first featured on two albums
                  by trombonist Lou Blackburn, then on Criss'
                  highly-regarded album Sonny's Dream. His first
                  solo album, The Horace Tapscott Quintet, was
                  recorded in 1969 for Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman
                  label and featured Blythe. He released a series of
                  solo piano and Arkestra albums on Nimbus
                  Records throughout the '70s and '80s, as well as
                  three sets for the Swiss Hat Art label that featured
                  John Carter, Cecil McBee and Andrew Cyrille. In
                  the 1990s, he released two albums for the
                  Arabesque label, Aiee! The Phantom and
                  Thoughts Of Dar Es Salaam. 

                  In 1994, Tapscott took his Arkestra on European
                  tour with Blythe back in the band. In 1998, he
                  returned to New York for a series of nights at the
                  Iridium with Billy Hart and Ray Drummond, and a
                  Lincoln Center concert, but found on his arrival that
                  he'd lost all feeling in his right hand. He canceled
                  the Lincoln Center gig, but kept the Iridium dates,
                  playing principally with his left hand. 

                  "It was probably the most heroic exhibition of
                  aesthetic engagement and grandeur that I've ever
                  seen in person," recalled Crouch. "What he
                  did--impaired like that--the way he played his runs
                  with his left hand, it was unbelievable. If you didn't
                  know what was happening, you would've just
                  thought, 'Gee whiz, what an original way of playing.'
                  Really, it was so soulful and swinging . . . I didn't
                  really know that he was messed up. I just thought
                  that he had experimented his way into this other
                  kind of way of playing the piano that was pretty
                  amazing. Then when I discovered that he was
                  making the most of what was available--and quite a
                  most it was--I was actually staggered, really. I had
                  never seen anything on that level . . . Witnessing
                  him in that situation made it very obvious that he
                  was part of the elite of the instrument and the idiom
                  that he worked in. Only a giant of the instrument
                  and the music could have done what he did--would
                  have known how to make it work." 

                  Tapscott's last public performance was back home
                  in Los Angeles in September of last year,
                  conducting his Arkestra. The next month, he had a
                  seizure, which led to the discovery of the cancer
                  that would claim his life in a matter of months.
                  Although he was too ill to attend, he was given a
                  Jazz Patron Award from the California Music
                  Awards in a ceremony at Los Angeles club the
                  Troubadour, where he was often booked during his
                  "blacklisted" days. 

                  "We're in the process of forming a Horace Tapscott
                  Foundation," said Hunter, "which will house his
                  archives and carry on the music and try to keep
                  doing the things he was doing through the Arkestra
                  members." The Arkestra will continue, although no
                  decision has yet been made as to its leader. 

                  "From my point of view, what I feel and know about
                  him," said Blythe of Tapscott's legacy, "his
                  contribution was coming from a positive place. He
                  was like a luminous-type person. He was a very
                  positive person." 

                  Tapscott is survived by his wife Cecilia, a sister
                  Robbie Byrd of Dallas, as well as nine children, 21
                  grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. A
                  memorial service for him is scheduled for March 29
                  at the Catalina Bar & Grill. 

 
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
Horace Tapscott was born in Houston, Texas
 April 4, 1934.

He was the son of a jazz musician mother. He moved from Texas to Fresno and finally to Los Angeles at the end of 1943. There, he played trombone in the bands of Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, and Gerald Wilson, alongside other young players like Eric Dolphy and Frank Morgan. While in the Air Force in 1953, stationed in Wyoming, he played trombone, baritone sax, and piano in the band. In the late 1950's, he played trombone with Lionel Hamption, but after a severe car accident, he focused on piano. In around 1959, he began playing free jazz with his own large group (about 35 strong) called the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. He started the associated activist artistic community organization, the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA). Saxophonist Sonny Criss used Tapscott's compositions on his wonderful 1968 record Sonny's Dream (Prestige), subtitled "Birth of the New Cool". The following year, he recorded as a leader with young alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, recently reissued on West Coast Hot (Novus). Though his beautiful, highly original music is slowly coming into greater recognition, Tapscott's defiant self- determination - he released the bulk of his music on his own Nimbus record label - and community involvement kept him out of the jazz public's attention for the last three decades. On Nimbus, he released a seven-volume series of solo works, The Tapscott Sessions, as well as records by the Arkestra and small groups with various personnel. In 1993, the compositions for Sonny's Dream were revived for the Chicago jazz festival, with Blythe in the band. [JC] 

 
 
  
 
 

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SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

The Phantom (Arabesque Recordings 1996)
The Dark Tree, Volume 1&2 (hat Art 1991)
 (Volume 1 was voted Best New Album of 1991 by Cadence Magazine)
The Tapscott Sessions Vol. 1,2, & 3. solo piano (Nimbus, 1982&1983)
At the Crossroads, with drummer Everett Brown (Nimbus 1980)
Horace Tapscott in New York -with Art Davis and Roy Haynes (Interplay 1979)
The Call, Tapscott and the Arkestra (Nimbus 1978)
Songs of the Unsung (Interplay, 1978)
Sonny's Dream: Birth of the New Cool - Sonny Criss feat. all Horace Tapscott compositions (Prestige 1968)
The Giant Is Awakened (Flying Dutchman, 1968)
Tobacco Road -Lou Rawls album with Lionel Hampton Band (mid 1950s)
 

 
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