"NYC Jazz Record" November, 2017
HORACE TAPSCOTT: MUSICAL GRIOT
Directed and produced by Barbara McCullough
Film review by John Pietaro
Horace Tapscott may be one of the music’s best kept secrets. Coming of age in an LA far removed from the “cool” West Coast of Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz, the pianist/composer forged an ethnically-identified, politically fearless vision. His leadership cast a post-modern genre that foresaw much of jazz’ avant garde as well as its infusion into Black Liberation. By the late ‘60s, Tapscott’s Pan-African People's Arkestra served as the house band for the Black Panther Party. The late Will Connell, many years Tapscott’s music librarian, in later discussions with anyone who’d listen, championed the scope of the Union of God's Musicians and Artists' Ascension, the leader’s educational foundry of 1961. Tapscott’s was an art of pride and legacy; it’s no small irony that bold activism led to a career shredded by blacklisting.
Barbara McCullough’s documentary focuses on Tapscott the inspiration as much as the musician. Culled together from interview and concert footage shot over a 25-year period, the tale of this woefully under-recognized artist comes to light; the filmmaker’s is the silent voice as Tapscott tells his own story over decades. Sections of the film stem from a lecture the pianist gave in the 1990s, interspersed with discussion segments between Tapscott, journalist Greg Tate, poet K. Curtis Lyle, Don Cherry and Dr. Samuel Browne, the legendary music teacher at LA’s Jefferson High School who mentored Dexter Gordon, Chico Hamilton and a phalanx of others including Tapscott. The concept of guiding the next generation was ingrained into the pianist early on: “My responsibility primarily was preservation of the art. The Black arts in particular. Something had to be done so you can touch and feel it….”
Tapscott’s vision into the next stage the music would take, including large ensemble free improvisation and multi-disciplinary collaborations, is evident. And his Underground Musicians Association, a heartily experimental aggregation, pioneered the later DIY concept. Of this indie effort, Tapscott stated: “We called it garage music: the kind of thing you only play for yourselves. The police came and stopped us, said we were getting the people worked up”. Appropriately, the radicalism inherent in both Tapscott’s mentorship and performances are established herein. He stated: “The music changed behind the bombing of the church in Alabama. We started playing music by Black composers. It helped free our people. This hooked us up with the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, H Rapp Brown…and the FBI and CIA”.
Considering the resurgence in revolutionary philosophy, Horace Tapscott’s music—now free of Cold War shackles--may finally be having its day.