To celebrate the new paperback edition of pianist Horace Tapscott’s autobiography Songs of the Unsung, we’d like to share a brief playlist of his music. Tapscott’s albums—especially on vinyl—can be hard to find, and they can command a premium (a friend of mine bought Tapscott’s album The Call for $40 and considered it a bargain; a first pressing of The Giant is Awakened regularly sells for $150+ on ebay). For those unfamiliar with Tapscott’s music, these five tracks that represent just a little part of Tapscott’s stylistic breadth are a great place to start. And for Tapscott aficionados, here’s a little reminder to fill out the gaps in your collection.
“The Giant Is Awakened,” from The Giant is Awakened (Flying Dutchman)
recorded in 1969
The title track from what is perhaps Tapscott’s best-known album, this piece—which features some heavy solos—is a great example of where a strand of avant-garde jazz went after the death of John Coltrane in 1967. A classic!
Horace Tapscott, piano
Arthur Blythe, alto saxophone
David Bryant, bass
Walter Savage Jr, bass
Everett Brown Jr, drums
“A Dress for Renee,” from The Dark Tree (hatOLOGY)
Recorded live at Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Hollywood, California in 1989, “A Dress for Renee” is a gorgeous solo piano ballad. The rest of the album features John Carter on clarinet, Cecil McBee on bass, and Andrew Cyrille on drums.
“The Call,” from The Call: Horace Tapscott Conducting the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (Nimbus West Records)
This piece demonstrates Tapscott’s unique big band composing style. The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra didn’t stick to the standard instrumentation or orchestration of big bands—note Tapscott’s use of tuba and lack of trumpets. Those familiar with David Murray’s writing for octets and big bands from the 1980s will hear some stylistic similarities.
Horace Tapscott: piano, conductor
Michael Session, Kafi Larry Roberts, Jesse Sharps, James Andrews, Herbert Callies: saxophones, flutes and clarinets
Adele Sebastian: vocals and flute
Archie Johnson, Lester Robertson: trombone
Linda Hill: piano
Louis Spears: cello and bass
Red Callendar: tuba and bass
David Bryant, Kamonta Lawrence Polk: bass
Everett Brown Jr: drums
William Madison: percussion and drums
Sonny Criss Orchestra, “The Black Apostles,” from Sonny’s Dream (Birth of the New Cool) (Prestige)
Sonny Criss was an alto saxophone player from L.A. whose work is under-recognized. This piece was composed by Tapscott. Like “The Call,” Tapscott uses tuba, but on this piece Tapscott’s comopsition style is a little closer to mainstream hard bop—but it is still unmistakably his style.
Horace Tapscott and Roberto Miranda, “If You Could See Me Now”
Recorded in Germany in March of 1998 (less than a year before Tapscott died), this video features Tapscott in a duo with bassist Roberto Miranda playing Tadd Dameron’s lovely tune. Watching Tapscott play, especially during his solo at about the 3:20 mark, is a treat. And for the super nerdy out there, note Tapscott’s quote of Miles Davis’s tune “Four” and his quote of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” It’s a shame that the piano is so out of tune.