Though never a household name, pianist, big-band leader, composer and community activist Horace Tapscott was a major figure on the Los Angeles jazz scene. As a teenager he, Don Cherry & Billy Higgins played together and took in the legendarily thriving Central Ave bop scene of the late '40s. Initially a trombonist, he got a call to work with Lionel Hampton before moving to piano (the Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols influence is evident).
In '61 he formed the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, a progressive big band that included poets, dancers and a good amount of activist spirit. In '63 he cut some sessions with the underrated trombonist Lou Blackburn. He was arranger/conductor/composer for the classic Sonny Criss Orchestra album Sonny's Dream (Birth Of The New Cool) in '68, and put out a great record under his own name for Flying Dutchman in '69 (The Giant Is Awakened, featuring Black Arthur Blythe).
His Arkestra became affiliated with the L.A. chapter of the Black Panthers and he found himself blacklisted and labeled "unhirable". But this didn't stop the flow of creative music, including young talents David Murray, Butch Morris and Sabir Mateen among others. He recorded for the Nimbus label, as well as sporadic dates on other labels such as HatArt.
In addition to the aforementioned players, he also worked with Roy Haynes, Andrew Cyrille, Sonny Simmons and others. From bop to free jazz to statements of social consciousness, Tapscott's work as a bandleader and mentor is inspiring stuff and respect for his music seems to be ever-growing long after his death.