The Dark Tree

The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles

STEVEN L. ISOARDI
With an Appendix by ROBERTO MIRANDA
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 377
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnrgb
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  • Book Info
    The Dark Tree
    Book Description:

    While he was still in his twenties, Horace Tapscott gave up a successful career in Lionel Hampton's band and returned to his home in Los Angeles to found the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, a community arts group that focused on providing affordable, community-oriented jazz and jazz training. Over the course of almost forty years, the Arkestra, together with the related Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA) Foundation, were at the forefront of the vital community-based arts movements in black Los Angeles. Some three hundred artists-musicians, vocalists, poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists-passed through these organizations, many ultimately remaining within the community and others moving on to achieve international fame. Based primarily on one hundred in-depth interviews with current and former participants,The Dark Treeis the first history of the important and largely overlooked community arts movement of African American Los Angeles. Brought to life by the passionate voices of the men and women who worked to make the arts integral to everyday community life, this engrossing book completes the account began in the highly acclaimedCentral Avenue Sounds, which documented the secular music history of the first half of the twentieth century and which theSan Francisco Examinercalled "one of the best jazz books ever compiled."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93224-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. CD Playlist
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. 1 Ancestral Echoes: Roots of the African American Community Artist
    (pp. 1-17)

    Early one morning, not very long into 1961, Horace Tapscott, a twenty-six-year-old trombonist, pianist, and arranger with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, took his seat on the band bus as Hamp’s troupe was preparing to leave Hollywood on a grueling journey of cross-country performances. It was a routine the promising young musician had come to know well over the past two years with Hamp’s band, but this morning was different. A growing disillusionment with the state of black music, the lack of respect accorded it by a commerce-oriented society, and the continuing exploitation of artists and art had led to his questioning...

  7. 2 Ballad for Samuel: The Legacy of Central Avenue and the 1950s Avant-Garde in Los Angeles
    (pp. 18-40)

    After visiting Los Angeles in 1913, W. E. B. DuBois wrote, “Nowhere in the United States is the Negro so well and beautifully housed, nor the average efficiency and intelligence in the colored population so high.”¹ It was an opinion widely shared. Lured by an expanding economy and the prospect of jobs, the relatively low cost of real estate, a mild climate, and a seemingly less-overt racism, African Americans began moving to Los Angeles in large numbers after 1900. For the next forty years their numbers doubled every decade and by 1940 represented slightly more than 4 percent of the...

  8. 3 Lino’s Pad: African American Los Angeles and the Formation of the Underground Musicians Association
    (pp. 41-64)

    In 1961, Samuel Browne left the music department at Jefferson for a teaching position at the newly opened Palisades High School in an affluent part of Los Angeles, just a short walk from the Santa Monica beaches. During the 1950s, Jeff and the community around it were changing and in a manner that did not suit Browne. By the end of the decade, the rising tensions in the community that would explode in the Watts upheaval of 1965 were palpable, and the influx of drugs into the music scene also fed his growing disillusionment. “The whole social fabric began to...

  9. 4 The Giant Is Awakened: The Watts Uprising and Cultural Resurgence
    (pp. 65-88)

    While a high school student in the early 1950s, Horace Tapscott rode the electric streetcars down Central Avenue to Jordan High School in Watts to attend an evening class taught by jazz musician and Jordan alumnus Buddy Collette. Having grown up in Watts during the 1920s and 1930s with fellow musicians David Bryant, Joe Comfort, Bobby and Big Jay McNeely, Charles Mingus, and the Woodman brothers, Buddy appreciated the cultural richness of the community and realized the importance of fostering creativity and passing on the best of that tradition. For Horace, it was the beginning of an involvement with that...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Warriors All: UGMA in the Middle of It
    (pp. 89-111)

    UGMA had been a presence in Watts before the upheaval of 1965 but now found themselves in the middle of the most dramatic urban convulsion in American history. Their street-level involvement in the community, encounters with the LAPD, and anger and indignation over the social situation facing African American Los Angeles meant they would not be taken unawares. In placing themselves and their art in the grassroots center of African American concerns and life, they also knew that they would be targeted by the police, for whom any critical black movement or organization—cultural, social, or political—was seen as...

  12. 6 The Mothership: From UGMA to the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and UGMAA
    (pp. 112-144)

    Not long after the release ofSeize the Timein 1969, UGMA performed with Elaine Brown at Los Angeles City College. Bassist Baba Alade was on that gig. “The Panthers came in there with drawn weapons, and Elaine Brown sang that song, ‘We’ll have to get guns and be men’ [“The End of Silence”], and I was in love. I had my bass and when I saw those shotguns—I’m young—I thought, ‘The Panthers … Wowee!’ Heroes like.” The Black Panthers were at their most visible and inspirational, but after almost three years of confrontation with city, state, and...

  13. 7 To the Great House: The Arkestra in the 1970s
    (pp. 145-176)

    By the mid–1970s, the end of the Vietnam War and the closing of many community social spaces and organizations were producing important changes within the cultural life of the African American community of Los Angeles. Much of the militancy of the earlier period had passed and debates over revolutionary political strategy diminished; many black nationalists were moving into the liberal orbit of the Democratic Party. In the late 1960s, the Black Panther Party had supported the liberal Peace and Freedom Party and the United Front Against Fascism, preparing the way for establishing links with the Democrats. In 1972, Bobby...

  14. 8 Thoughts of Dar Es Salaam: The Institutionalization of UGMAA
    (pp. 177-200)

    Despite the disappointment of FESTAC and another turnover of personnel, beginning in the mid-1970s UGMAA would finally achieve institutional stability and a concomitant expansion of its programs. This came at a time when it was most needed in the community, as government support for the arts and social services dwindled, and many centers were closing. With the U.S. economy in decline during the 1970s and a more conservative political leadership in power by the end of the decade, death sentences were routinely decreed on programs not commercially viable. Nevertheless, UGMAA was able to achieve nonprofit status and acquire a substantial...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. 9 At the Crossroads: The Ark and UGMAA in the 1980s
    (pp. 201-222)

    The 1980s were an especially difficult time for many residents of South Central Los Angeles. African Americans were three times more likely than whites to fall below the poverty line. The continued decline of Los Angeles’s blue-collar sector, rising levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the concomitant rise in gang activity and the drug trade were hardships magnified by the callous indifference of a society hell-bent on conspicuous consumption and individual aggrandizement at whatever cost. By the mid–1980s, one could tune into such prime-time television shows as the obscenely titledLifestyles of...

  17. 10 The Hero’s Last Dance: The ‘90s Resurgence
    (pp. 223-245)

    Unlike the struggles of the mid-to-late 1960s, the uprising that shook Los Angeles in 1992 was a multiracial reaction to accumulating social and economic inequalities and injustices. In South Central, the previous fifteen years had witnessed the further impoverishment of the community and elimination of much of its arts movement. Even so, there was less talk of revolution and more of simply making gains through self-help. The uprising produced a truce between the Crips and the Bloods, which led to their issuance of a proposal to rebuild much of the infrastructure of South Central and to make it more capitalistically...

  18. 11 Aiee! The Phantom: Horace Tapscott
    (pp. 246-271)

    Eulogizing Horace at the postfuneral repast in Leimert Park, Kamau Daáood asked the assembled mourners, “A great tree has fallen. What will hold up the sky in its place?” Horace’s passing left a void in the African American community and its arts world. For almost forty years, undeterred by whatever problems arose within the community, he was a continual and visible artistic presence, who created and guided the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and UGMAA, performing before thousands and attracting hundreds of artists to support a movement focused on their community in which the only certainties were great music, passing on...

  19. 12 The Black Apostles: The Arkestra/UGMAA Ethos and Aesthetic
    (pp. 272-292)

    A Nigerian proverb cautions, “One tree cannot make a forest.”¹ Neither did one individual make the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension. Hundreds of artists came together around Horace Tapscott’s vision of a collective, community-based arts movement. During a forty-year period, they developed that vision into an ethos of community involvement and an aesthetic rooted in African American social life incorporating aspects of West African cultural tradition and looking beyond the commercially driven values of contemporary society to a richer, more cooperative cultural life.

    Evolving through their everyday practice as community artists, they...

  20. APPENDIX. A View from the Bottom: The Music of Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra
    (pp. 293-300)
    ROBERTO MIRANDA
  21. Notes
    (pp. 301-328)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 329-344)
  23. Index
    (pp. 345-356)