Courtesy of Horace Tapscott


Arabesque Recordings


The following is the first Fireside Chat. Please forgive me if I seem a bit wet behind the ears. It is fitting that Horace Tapscott started the show. He was after all, the reason why I became interested in improvised music (John Coltrane as well, but I was too young to do a one on one with J.C.). I love Tapscott, his music, his dynamic approach to the piano, the way in which he electrified audiences, his dedication to the black community in Los Angeles (my hometown), and the gentle nature of the man. It still pains me to think that he never received the recognition for his tremendous work while he was alive, but in his death, people can't memorialize and write about him enough. Where were you when the man was with us? You're coming out of the woodwork now, but where were you five, ten years ago? I cannot even begin to say how much Tapscott means to me. I could write a book. I would only hope that you, too, had an opportunity to be touched by this monster of a player and a gentle giant at heart. And if you were, perhaps, this conversation will bring about fond memories, as it does for me, each and every time I read it. It is my honor to present unto you, Horace Tapscott, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Was the piano your original instrument?


FJ: How did you discover the piano?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: My mother. She was a pianist. She was in an old jazz band.

FJ: Was she a big influence on you?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: Oh, yeah. She played in two bands. She played tuba in one band. She also played another instrument I'm not aware of. But she did play the piano. She had a piano in the house all the time.

FJ: You were in the Air Force. What was that experience like for you?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: That was another kind of experience. It was a good learning vehicle as well as what's gonna happen in society when you step out of there. I had a lot of enlightenment in the service. Racism hit at its peak when I was in the service. My dealing with racism had its peak in the United States Air Force. At that very moment, the armed forces were desegregated so everybody was in a strange mood. The white guys had never been with the black guys and vice versa. There was a lot of stuff going on. However, I was in the band, you know.

FJ: When so many musicians have left for the New York scene, what kept you in Los Angeles all these years?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: Well, you see I did go to New York for about two and a half years. I was there in Lionel Hampton's band and lived there for a while. However, at the time I was living there, I learned some more about racism and the fact that the music itself, music by black composers and performers, was just getting lost in the dust, you dig? They were getting turned around and I didn't like that kind of stuff and wanted to do something to help change that. I felt like if I went to New York again or had I stayed in New York, I would have missed raising some of my children where they should be raised and at the same time, I felt that this was one music and we were missing the point. The music itself was getting lost. The credit part of the music was getting smothered and that, to me, was very disturbing. So I figured if I stayed here at home and tried from scratch, how to work it, say what I feel, what I believe, and try to put it in some kind of emotion and action, and gather some other people with those same kind of ideas about preserving their race, and culture, and music, and things of that nature. And what was the best way for me to do that, I thought, was to be in the community where people that are not aware about the music itself can be themselves a part of the music. I thought that might be the better way to get across. I felt that it was either this or that. Going to New York, where I could have been doing certain things much more than I am, but I couldn't say it's much more quality as I am here, at home, watching different things happen in front of my eyes after all those years.

FJ: You mentioned the community. You do so much on behalf of the Los Angeles community. What has kept your enthusiasm fired up to keep giving back to the community?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: You see, I was raised in a segregated society, which means I was raised differently from what young people are raised today, which meant that everybody trusted everyone. Everybody helped each other, believed in each other, inspired one another, chastised one another when they were wrong, and it did not have to be your particular family. Sure, I could have gone back. I could have done a lot of things. I turned down an offer to a Boston white college. They were offering me that kind of college gig. I don't know how it got to them, but at any rate, it was the fact that it was something I believed in, the fact that I was raised in it, around the music and around the people that were used to being around each other and wanted to help one another. I want to transfer that to where I live. I still want to be able to walk the streets of my community without looking back. And I feel that all the music we're hearing now had to come from somewhere and it did come from the community. All the music started right there, slated in the underground at that time.

FJ: In reference to your community involvement, you have played numerous festivals in Los Angeles that are free to the public. The Watts Jazz Festival is a good example. Do you prefer to play to the masses in that type of forum or do you prefer a more intimate setting like the Jazz Bakery?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: Well, after all this time now, I can take them either or. I'm very used to doing festivals cause it brings the crowd and that's what brings about these kind of gigs (referring to his stint at the Jazz Bakery). But, the fact was that you had a chance to showcase different things from the community, which the other parts of the community might not be aware of, which is very important. It doesn't have any time setting on it. It's just a thing you do while you're here. And when you're gone, somebody else may come along but it has been dealt with and now people are aware of the things that are going on right around them, up the street from them.

FJ: You were recently in New York for the Lincoln Center performance. What was that like?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: That was very interesting. All of us from here went there and you saw some guys who used to be here, there. It is very nice to get a chance to show what is happening on both coasts because it's all one music.

FJ: How do you feel about the future of jazz in Los Angeles?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: I think labels and things just separate from what is really happening. What I want is when your grandchildren open up a book in the library, I want them to be able to read, for sure, this music was indigenous to this country and done by slaves. Take it from there I'm thinking about the wholeness, so to speak, that comes out of African-American composers - the future of the wholeness, what happens to it. So many friends that I know and grew up with have gotten ousted from things that they have written that have become very popular all over the world and they didn't get credit for it because they were black composers. I feel the same way as I felt before, regardless of the new century because there should be a change to look forward to and there's still so much work to do. And the work needs to be done by people who believe in it, not by someone who wants the publicity because it is not going to be a picnic and a lot of things happen that can discourage you.

FJ: Are record companies manufacturing stars?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: That's true, they are manufacturing stars and it's like everything else they're manufacturing that used to be natural and the same results are going to happen. Pretty soon, you'll have robot bands. One thing about music, they can copy it all they want, but there is no replacement for it. You can't handle the music. You don't throw it around like you do the atom bomb because the music is going to be there. I know that. European music, Asian music, music is going to be there. What we are talking about here is recognition of the music, that simple thing. Not asking for any, well, I guess we are asking for certain kinds of money, but more then that, just asking for recognition. I am not surprised. Big companies, and I respect that, they came here to do business and they don't care abut your music and they let you know that, so we're going to manufacture some music. OK, fine, but that can only go so far. It can't go as far as they want it to. Elevator music and all that kind of things will only last however long it's going to last. It will never replace the live musician.

FJ: Do you have plans to record with your Pan-African People's Arkestra?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: I am. I am very much in plan. We're rehearsing now.

FJ: Describe your current project.

HORACE TAPSCOTT: It did not take very long to record because all the music on there is old. All the things I recorded were things that should have been recorded. I did not get to record it, so that's what I'm doing now. So I've got quite a bit to go before I get into some other things, but that project is still there to preserve and to get the music out.

FJ: Aiee! The Phantom, your last album, was a quintet album. What made you choose to do a trio recording this time around?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: I don't want to record too much with and horns unless they are from back here, more or less, and that is one of the main reasons.

FJ: And the future?

HORACE TAPSCOTT: The very same things. Walking that walk. Seeing and enjoying it. There are so many things to keep you there, like live family. That is what I look forward to, still doing those same things, only on a much more grander level, of course. That's about it, Fred.

Fred Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and loves Tuna Helper. Comments?  Email Fred.