Global Pop In Los Angeles: Horace Tapscott’s Jazz

Horace Tapscott is an African-American jazz musician of the latter half of XX century who also was a significant social activist during the Civil Rights Movement. The development of multiculturalism in Los Angeles since the late 60th is in a great degree Tapscott’s achievement because of his multiple activities directed toward the increasing of his people’s social prestige. The strong interrelation between jazz as a primarily African-American music style and the Civil Rights Movement is the reason why most of the famous jazz musicians were activists of the latter one. Besides, this detail also makes clear why the flourishing of the African-American music in the 60th and the increasing of the African-Americans’ prestige in the society occurred at the same time. Horace Tapscott was a young musician during the social activity of Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers. Thus, Tapscott helped other African-Americans to struggle for their rights through both his music and social activity. Tapscott’s jazz is very specific; it includes many different elements that harmonically demonstrates the principles of American multinational order. At the same time, he participated in different informal African-American organizations and in this way helped his people to organize themselves and feel a social integrity. The same he did for other peoples all over the world until his death. The today’s democratic and tolerant world is in some degree a result of Tapscott’s activity. The achievements of Horace Tapscott in both social and musical spheres allow accept him as one of the greatest representative of Los Angeles citizens.

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Today jazz is considered to be one of the best-known symbols of the United Stated. People all over the world recognize the specific rhythms of this musical style. In this respect, it is reasonable to call the American jazz musicians the most significant representatives of this musical style. It is also important that the history of jazz starts since the end of XIX century when the talented African-Americans in New Orleans had enough freedom for public self-realization in the field of popular music. Thus, the history of jazz has some common points with the history of the African-Americans’ struggle for their natural rights to be equal with other people. In some degree, the American jazz musicians demonstrated through their attractive music that all people are equal, especially in the field of art. Among the most influential inspirers of the Civil Rights Movement were the African-American musicians because their activity inspired people to fight for their rights even without direct proclamations. Among such inspirers was Horace Tapscott, one of the most influential jazz musicians of Los Angeles. Tapscott was one of those musicians who founded the new tolerant and multicultural United States after the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. The development of multiculturalism in Los Angeles since the late 60th is in a great degree Tapscott’s achievement because of his multiple activities directed toward the increasing of his people’s social prestige.

The Formative Context of Tapscott’s Activity

To understand the context in which Horace Tapscott lived and acted, one should start from the most important in this aspect phenomena of the African-Americans life during the second half of XX century. Those are the Civil Rights Movement and the development of jazz. In fact, it is possible to say that these two phenomena of social life are just different dimensions of the same process of the African-American people awakening. As Jacob Teichroew claims, “The music, which appealed to whites and blacks alike, provided a culture in which the collective and the individual were inextricable, and in which one was judged by his ability alone, and not by race or any other irrelevant factors” . In fact, it is clear that despite most of the first jazz musicians were African-Americans, they did not just propagate their own values, but appealed to the general evidence such as the equality of all people’s rights. The specifics of jazz itself already demonstrates this equality. Jazz is a synthesis of African rhythms and European harmony, African way of performance and European instruments (piano, sax, trumpet etc.). In this way, the cultural success of jazz in the best way demonstrates the triumph of multiculturalism in the United States that literally serve as a pelting pot for different traditions and nations.

In such a context of the struggle for the African-Americans’ rights led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Horace Tapscott realized himself as a musician. Not in the last turn, the reason for that was his belonging to the African-Americans whose intention to get their rights inspired him to believe in own possibility to make some contribution into those great processes of social transformations in the United States. The mentioned unity of jazz and the Civil Rights Movement is crucial for his music’s understanding.

The Biographical Information about Horace Tapscott

Horace Tapscott (1934-1999) was born in Houston, Texas, and then moved in his early childhood to Los Angeles. In fact, his conscious life started in Los Angeles, thus, he became famous as a Californian musician. Since he was born in 1934, he belonged to the generation of young African-Americans who became the main power of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955-1968. It is important to note that Tapscott was 21 when the great social transformations began. Besides, during that period, Tapscott also serves in the Air Force and gets in the Army good musical skills.

After the Air Force, Tapscott returns to Los Angeles and becomes a famous trombonist, pianist and jazz composer. His teachers were such musicians as Billy Higgins, Frank Morgan and Don Cherry. At the same time, he creates his jazz band (the “Pan African Peoples Arkestra”, or just “Ark”), then reorganizes it into the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA), and in this way Tapscott starts to lead both musical and social life. These and further his musical organizations serve for the development of the African-American culture in its full spectre. Thus, as Lipsitz claims about UGMA, “their pro-Black and pro-Africa sentiments made them unwelcome in white supremacist America. Tapscott himself underlined in his interview with Bob Rosenbaum, that he always participated in some hidden organizations’ work. In such a way, all Tapscott’s life is a synthesis of jazz and social protest against inequality.

Horace Tapscott’s Music

Tapscott played in different bands, but his music always preserves such specific features as an underlined individual manner of performance, expressiveness, vividness, and at the same time very colourful deepness and philosophical sensitivity. This specific form of jazz has no close analogues in the world music history. Tapscott usually uses piano and his own voice to record his music. Certainly, other members of his band use basses, sax, and drums. In this way, Tapscott creates some visual and even rhythmical similarity with jazz in its earlier forms, but creates something principally new.

As a good example of Tapscott’s music can serve his “The Giant is Awakened” released in 1969 and devoted to the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. This composition is instrumental, and it demonstrates the full scope of different jazz techniques. Sax, piano, two basses and drums catch the initiative during the performance, but the main theme sounds till the end in these different variations (the piece lasts more than 17 minutes). Thus, the listener comes into some state close to trance and feels the main idea of the music – the awakening of the Giant (of the African-American people). In fact, the mentioned parallelism between jazz and the history of the African-Americans allows understand that through the various forms of jazz the author tell the history of his people.

Horace Tapscott and Los Angeles

Tapscott is one of the greatest African-American musicians of Los Angeles. His main contribution into the city’s cultural development is his constant activity in the field of cultural transformations interrelated with the social reforming. The bands and organizations created by Tapscott (such as the Ark, UGMA etc.) as well as those just collaborated with him (Jazz Heritage Foundation, for example) represent those people who became musicians in the future due to Tapscott’s support.

It is very important to underline that Tapscott tried to free not only the African-Americans, but all oppressed peoples. As Lipsitz quotes, Tapscott once said: “our concern was our particular area and black people, but we sympathized with people’s struggles around the world”. Thus, for example, till his death in 1999 he actively supported the integration of the Chinese music into the American context, and in this way not just protected his own people but struggled for the universal equality in the whole world. In this regard, the personality of Horace Tapscott may be some kind of etalon for every American who supports the tolerant and multicultural values of the United States.


Horace Tapscott represents the most important American values such as the need of universal equality and justice. He demonstrated these ideas through his specific jazz style in which he created through the inspired improvisation as well as the technical skills the connection of different ways to express music in a jazz manner. Tapscott’s music is inseparable from his social position, but it is not subjugated to any social problematics. Besides, both music and social protest are perfectly represented in Tapscott’s activity as equally appropriate ways of his self-realization.