Songs of the Unsung: The Musical and Social Journey of Horace Tapscott / Edition 1

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Overview

Songs of the Unsung is the autobiography of Los Angeles jazz musician and activist Horace Tapscott (1934–1999). A pianist who ardently believed in the power of music to connect people, Tapscott was a beloved and influential character who touched many yet has remained unknown to the majority of Americans. In addition to being “his” story, Songs of the Unsung is the story of Los Angeles’s cultural and political evolution over the last half of the twentieth century, of the origins of many of the most important avant-garde musicians still on the scene today, and of a rich and varied body of music.
Tapscott’s narrative covers his early life in segregated Houston, his move to California in 1943, life as a player in the Air Force band in the early fifties, and his travels with the Lionel Hampton Band. He reflects on how the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (the “Ark”), an organization he founded in 1961 to preserve and spread African and African-American music, eventually became the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension—a group that not only performed musically but was active in the civil rights movement, youth education, and community programs. Songs of the Unsung also includes Tapscott’s vivid descriptions of the Watts neighborhood insurrection of 1965 and the L.A. upheavals of 1992, interactions with both the Black Panthers and the L.A.P.D., his involvement in Motown’s West Coast scene, the growth of his musical reputation abroad, and stories about many of his musician-activist friends, including Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, Buddy Collette, Arthur Blythe, Lawrence and Wilber Morris, Linda Hill, Elaine Brown, Stanley Crouch, and Sun Ra.
With a foreword by Steven Isoardi, a brief introduction by actor William Marshall, a full discography of Tapscott’s recordings, and many fine photographs, Songs of the Unsung is the inspiring story of one of America’s most unassuming twentieth-century heroes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Songs of the Unsung—It’s about time! Horace Tapscott was one of the first guys doing it in the community. His life has been a big influence on me. He made sure younger and older people played music. He is one of the true giants of this music in the way he played it, wrote it, and lived it.”—Billy Higgins

“During those days the greatest thing happened to me. I got something I needed when I was on the radio . . . . While I was being interviewed, the telephone rang. It was a woman calling from almost her deathbed in the hospital to tell me that my music had helped to heal her, someone with a real soft voice, sobbing as she spoke, like she had been under some kind of dark cloth, saying that finally some light came in because of the sounds.
‘Thank you so very much for playing and please don’t stop.’ I never knew her name, never met her. I don’t know if she’s still alive or not. But what she said to me justified everything that I believed in. There wasn’t anything happening moneywise and sometimes you’re down in the dumps, but you have to pull your head up. When things like that happen, those little small things, well, that was the idea of the sounds in the first place.”—from Chapter Twelve

“This is a splendid book, a wonderfully accessible first person narrative by an important and unusual figure in the history of jazz and the history of Black Los Angeles. Tapscott has an important story to tell and he conveys his experiences, opinions, and philosophy clearly through an engaging and conversational style filled with rich descriptions and witty observations.”—George Lipsitz, author of Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Poetics of Place

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
He could've been a star, but instead became a catalyst, warming people with his expressive music and fiery social activism. This raw, intimate autobiography of L.A. free jazz pianist, trombonist and composer Tapscott (1934-1999), culled from interviews with him, opens with colorful reflections on his musical home and a vibrant, tight-knit, church-centered Houston community afflicted but not cowed by segregation. As an adult in L.A., he married his "soul mate," and began a family and a musical career. Each time he traveled--with the Air Force band at Ft. Warren in the 1950s, with Lionel Hampton's band, etc.--he felt rootless and disconnected. Bent on creating a nurturing community for his children, he quit touring and formed the ensemble Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (the Ark) and the collective UGMAA (Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension)--groups that persisted through the Watts insurrection of 1965 and L.A.'s 1992 upheavals. The Ark "made more sense to me than just making records--being able to put your hands on somebody," he says. Musical ties with some Black Panthers and a touch of "cockiness" got Tapscott blacklisted from the music industry. But after surgery for a cerebral aneurysm, he jokes, "It looked so bad for me that a radio station even started playing my music." The omission of footnotes will disappoint readers wanting details, but the discography offers the opportunity to visit with the amazing Tapscott and some of the "cats" he played with. 46 photos. (Feb.) Forecast: Coinciding with Black History Month and the one-year anniversary of Tapscott's publicly mourned death, this retrospective will enable jazz enthusiasts to revel in the life of a unique and talented underground musician--but that, of course, will depend on Duke's willingness to push this title with adequate publicity. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Based on interviews from 1993, 1997, and 1998, this title chronicles the life and work of avant-garde jazz pianist, trombonist, and composer Tapscott (1934-99). Although not well known outside of the Los Angeles area, Tapscott was highly respected among the city's musical movers and shakers and eschewed more lucrative positions in the entertainment business to focus his talent and energy on perpetuating music within his community. The centerpiece of his efforts, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (later the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension), was formed during and responded to some of the most turbulent times in recent American history, e.g., the Watts riots of 1965. As interviewer and editor, Isoardi has expertly transcribed Tapscott's personal syntax and also conveyed the fundamental integrity of his subject in a prose format. In effect, this is Tapscott's autobiography from his formative years in Houston to his tours with the Lionel Hampton orchestra. The appendix contains useful reference material, including a discography of Tapscott's recordings and a list of Ark members. A valuable firsthand account of American music and culture that will make a welcome addition to any collection. Teresa M. Neff, Massachusetts Inst. of Technology, Cambridge Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Lee Prosser
Songs of the Unsung is one of those special autobiographical narratives that comes along once in a while, and successfully captivates its reading audience with the complete candor of the person telling the story! This is an important sociological document, for it tells the life of Horace Tapscott, one of the most unique figure in jazz of Black Los Angeles. . . . What is most unique about Songs of the Unsung is that it reveals a man who not only lived jazz, but contributed to it in meaningful ways, and was a walking masterpiece of the personal philosophy he advocated. He lived to teach, help others, perform, create. Horace Tapscott succeeded at each. Songs of the Unsung lets the reader see how he did it. Songs of the Unsung is excellent reading. This book entertains and enlightens at the same time, and is a fine reading experience!-–(Lee Prosser, Jazzreview.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822325314
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Horace Tapscott —a pianist, trombonist, and composer whose unique approach to avant-garde jazz earned him legendary status—was also a leader and organizer who dedicated himself for many years to raising his community through the arts. Born in Houston and a veteran of the United States Air Force, Tapscott taught and guided hundreds of Los Angeles youths.

Steven L. Isoardi, along with Tapscott and six others, coedited Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles. He also edited Buddy Collette’s autobiography, Jazz Generations, and produced the 4-CD Rhino Records set Central Avenue Sounds.

Horace Tapscott —a pianist, trombonist, and composer whose unique approach to avant-garde jazz earned him legendary status—was also a leader and organizer who dedicated himself for many years to raising his community through the arts. Born in Houston and a veteran of the United States Air Force, Tapscott taught and guided hundreds of Los Angeles youths.

Steven L. Isoardi, along with Tapscott and six others, coedited Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles. He also edited Buddy Collette’s autobiography, Jazz Generations, and produced the 4-CD Rhino Records set Central Avenue Sounds.

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Read an Excerpt

During those days the greatest thing happened to me. I got something I needed when I was on the radio . . . . While I was being interviewed, the telephone rang. It was a woman calling from almost her deathbed in the hospital to tell me that my music had helped to heal her, someone with a real soft voice, sobbing as she spoke, like she had been under some kind of dark cloth, saying that finally some light came in because of the sounds.


‘Thank you so very much for playing and please don’t stop.’

I never knew her name, never met her. I don’t know if she’s still alive or not. But what she said to me justified everything that I believed in. There wasn’t anything happening moneywise and sometimes you’re down in the dumps, but you have to pull your head up. When things like that happen, those little small things, well, that was the idea of the sounds in the first place.-—from Chapter Twelve

Read More Show Less

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