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Horace Tapscott's Giant Re-Awakened In A Reissue

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Horace Tapscott's Giant Re-Awakened In A Reissue

Horace Tapscott's Giant Re-Awakened In A Reissue

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. In the 1960s and early '70s, Los Angeles-based pianist Horace Tapscott was one of the jazz musicians who identified with emerging African-American political and social movements. He was a mentor to many musicians. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of a re-issue of Tapscott's 1969 debut album. He led a big band at the time, but this recording is with his quintet, which was drawn from the ranks of his big band.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE TAPSCOTT AND THE PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA SONG, "THE GIANT IS AWAKENED")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: That's "The Giant Is Awakened" from the newly reissued Horace Tapscott album of the same name. The title refers to a newly mobilized African-American public. It was recorded in 1969 when that decade's upheavals were much on Tapscott's mind. Back then, his dashiki clad Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra was a South Los Angeles institution playing concerts in the park and from the back of a truck. Even his quintet music could reflect community empowerment. The ascending, intensifying riff on "The Dark Tree" sounds like forces gathering and gaining strength.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE TAPSCOTT AND THE PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA SONG, "THE DARK TREE")

WHITEHEAD: Playing "The Dark Tree" for years on the streets, seeing neighborhood kids dance to it, Horace Tapscott learned something. Even when his piano solos got kind of abstract, listeners would accept the music if the beat was good. His arkestra had multiple bass players, so it was no problem using two of them here - David Bryant and Walter Savage Jr. Sometimes one plucks the strings while the other bows.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE TAPSCOTT AND THE PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA SONG, "THE DARK TREE")

WHITEHEAD: Everett Brown Jr. from Kansas City on drums. The band's horn player is the 28-year-old rhythm and blues trained alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe on his first recording. A decade later, Blythe would be a bona fide jazz star, partly due to his catchy tunes. There's a too-short version of one of them here, "For Fats."

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE TAPSCOTT AND THE PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA SONG, "FOR FATS")

WHITEHEAD: Arthur Blythe has one of the most arresting saxophone sounds of our time, searing and bluesy with a serrated vibrato and pungent low notes. It was thrilling to be in a room when he played. He's still with us but no longer active, sidelined with Parkinson's. Well-regarded as Arthur Blythe is, he's probably not celebrated nearly enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE TAPSCOTT AND THE PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA SONG, "NYJA'S THEME")

WHITEHEAD: Horace Tapscott wasn't totally happy with this album when it came out in 1969. He thought his piano was mixed too loud. One thing about Tapscott, he'd never put himself above anybody. He was an idealist and all-around good guy. "The Giant Is Awakened" didn't make him or Arthur Blythe instant stars; it only had four tracks, one almost too short for radio and two others way too long. But it started people talking. Horace Tapscott would go on to record in many settings, from solo to full orchestra. He'd play in Europe a lot and make a few records in New York. And when he was done, he'd head straight back to his city of angels.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE TAPSCOTT AND THE PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA SONG, "NYJA'S THEME")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?"

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