New York

Playing for Horace:
A Tribute to the Music of Rebellion

By BS, with contributions from DL and CJ

Revolutionary Worker #1013, July 4, 1999

There was a festival atmosphere at the Knitting Factory on June 15, and for good reason--it was a Tribute to the Life & Music of Horace Tapscott, A Man of the People. The program was packed solid with five hours of music, and the late spring sun was still out as the line formed for tickets and the audience began to assemble. When the sun set and the show began, the vibe of Horace Tapscott lit up the Knitting Factory--a vibe that brought out eight ensembles and well over 20 musicians, sharing their time on one stage effortlessly and without a hint of selfishness, each wanting only to pay tribute to the selflessness and care that Tapscott showed with his life. Tapscott's 1978 album The Call was inscribed with the quote from Tapscott: "Our music is contributive, rather than competitive." No better words could have summed up this night of music, in which everyone came bearing gifts for the man known as "Papa."

The concert was produced by the Artists Network of Refuse and Resist! and WKCR-FM (89.9) radio as a tribute to the master pianist and composer who died February 28, 1999 after 50 years of making music for the people. The event was a benefit for Horace's family and foundation, UGMAA (Union of God's Musicians and Artist Ascension).

Kaeef Ruzadun, a pianist who came up under Horace over the years, started off the evening and was joined by a supporting cast that seemed to grow with each song as he conjured up the moods of the Arkestra with his piano and words.

Baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett followed with a revelatory performance of "Amazing Disgrace," summoning for all within earshot Tapscott's "music of rebellion."

Clarinetist Don Byron & pianist Uri Caine displayed the power of unity, playing duets so reciprocal that they seemed to come from one mind. Caine said in an interview, "Horace Tapscott was a beautiful human being. When they asked us to do this I really wanted to participate just to honor his memory, honor his music. When people pass away you realize how in a way you take people for granted, take other musicians for granted, and you don't realize how certain people really hold up a whole scene or a whole type of music."

Don Byron put it this way: "Certain cats are great musicians but they are off by themselves and other people are leaders of men, or women, you know, or whatever. I think Horace had both. He's a great player and he could kind of get cats together."

Bassist Wilber Morris could not contain his emotion and shouted out his joy and resolve at this gathering ("It's like the '60s!"), during his performance with Sabir Mateen and William Connell Jr., Ravish Momin and Steve Swell. Guitarist Marc Ribot and saxophonist Roy Nathanson followed, packing their tribute to Tapscott into a brief but strongly evocative set before turning over the stage to jazz legends bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Billy Hart, who played a set exemplary of the man to whom they paid tribute.

Hart said of Tapscott, "He truly was not only a consummate master musician, he was a cultural asset. He was a community leader, the kind that we don't see now. We need guys like that as world leaders. It is because of guys like him that we still have courage and faith when we don't see it anywhere else. Without guys like that I couldn't exist. I couldn't continue. I wouldn't have the courage on my own without their wisdom and their knowledge of history beyond the western world."

The evening was hosted by Dwight Trible, a member of Tapscott's Pan-Afrikan People's Arkestra, who flew in from L.A. to do the honors. He told the RW: "I'm here on behalf of the Artist's Network [of Refuse & Resist!] and I came to host this magnificent tribute to Horace Tapscott. I feel that this is a complete continuation of the tribute we did in L.A., which was very very magical and beautiful and spiritual and this one, it just turned out the same way. I do believe that Horace's spirit is here guiding and presiding over the whole thing and making it wonderful." The columnist and jazz critic Stanley Crouch, who had once been in the Arkestra, read a tribute to Horace. And Dread Scott from the Artists Network in NYC read the text of the "First Annual Horace Tapscott Cultural Resister Award" which was given to Horace at the concert in L.A. shortly after his passing in February.

Another L.A. visitor at the concert was Mamie Blythe, the wife of Arthur Blythe, a musician who got his start in Horace's Arkestra. She told the RW: "I'm here because I love Horace. I love Cecilia [his wife]. I love all the kids. We had a wonderful time back then [the '60s and early '70s]. We were like...we were revolutionaries, and we were warriors, and anything that would uplift the African-American, an American, we were for it. That's why we did things for the Panthers. That's how `Seize the Time, the Time is Now' came in. Horace did the music, Elaine Brown did the lyrics. But anything that was activist, we were there, from colleges to parks. Horace always kept a house for the musicians to go and play at. And any musician that came through town and didn't have a place to stay, they could lay their head..."

The co-producer of the concert, Brian Linde, is also the program director of WKCR, Columbia University's radio station (known for adventurous jazz programming). Earlier in the week, he had produced a three-hour special on Horace's life, featuring in-studio conversations with two of the original members of the Arkestra, Wilber Morris and Sabir Mateen.

Jazz critic Gary Giddins in that week's Village Voice had highlighted the event, saying it "features a lineup beyond that of most festival concerts." The tribute attracted many hardcore jazz fans, including one club owner from Berlin who asked over and over, "How did you do this?"


When Randy Weston sat down at the piano later in the evening, the crowd got quiet, expectant. He laid down a magnificent solo piano performance, cutting through multiple renditions of his classic compositions "Little Niles" and "Hi-Fly." When he was finished, as the audience was returning from the blissful spirits convened by Weston, he said, "I'm here for Horace Tapscott and his family. We were very dear friends. We were actually family. We both named our sons Niles..."

Saxophonist Sonny Simmons finished the night up with a rousing set from his ensemble, ending with "My Favorite Things" and sending the crowd off straight-ahead into the early morning hours energized with the generosity of spirit and strength of community brought out by all of these musicians in memory of Horace Tapscott, a man of the people.

Ray Drummond, still among the audience to soak up the vibes long after his set ended, summed up the evening:

"It was quite the spirit of Papa reigned in the house all night. So all of us who have been touched and inspired and taught by Papa, Horace Tapscott, enjoyed ourselves--and actually Horace was here playing."

What was so special about Horace? Randy Weston gave us his thoughts: "Horace is a great composer, a great pianist, a great human being. He stayed in the community in Watts, you see, in Los Angeles, performed orchestras, and did everything you can imagine in music, you know, teaching our young people, older people. And he developed a system of spirituality and creativity and he showed people what the music really means, what it's all about, and what is our contribution as a people, you know, as far as the music is concerned. So he was a very very important man.

"Let me give you an example of how great he was. The last time I saw him in New York was the last night of his concert and I always go to see Horace. It was on a Sunday. Went to see him. We embraced each other. I say, `Hey, I've come to catch your set, you know.'

"And he said, `Something's wrong with my right hand.' And he held up his right hand and he said, `I can't use my right hand, so I have to use it like a drum, I can't use it.'

"I said, `What?!'

"And he said something happened, he couldn't explain what it was. Went inside the club and he's playing with a trio, Ray Drummond and Billy Hart. And he played the whole set with his one left hand and you closed your eyes and you'd never know it was one hand. I never knew Horace was that great myself."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)