Archive for December, 2011

“i will pray for you on this snaggle-toothed piano”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2011 by Josslyn Luckett

“i am Horace Tapscott

my fingers are dancing grassroots

i do not fit into form, i create form

my ears are radar charting the whispers of my ancestors

i seek divinity in outcasts, the richness of rebels

i will pray for you on this snaggle-toothed piano

songs for the unsung…”

From “Papa, The Lean Griot: for Horace Tapscott, pianist, arranger, composer, mentor, community arts activist, beloved patriarch” by Kamau Daaood in The Language of Saxophones

Two nights ago I feel the deep pang of homesickness when my brother Peter J Harris leaves a voicemail telling me he’s on the way to the ‘Stage (The World Stage ) where Billy Childs is setting up for a concert in the new jazz series Peter is curating.  My only medicine is the feast of Horace Tapscott the next night, last night in Harvard Yard.  Not a typo, it really happened at Harvard’s Dudley House…Michael Heller, the music director for the Dudley House Jazz Bands is one seriously committed musician, arranger, historian and Music Dept PhD candidate.  Last winter he knocked me out with his arrangement of Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite, and last night he shaped an evening of music performed by the Dudley House Combo and Big Band featuring the music of Papa Griot Horace Tapscott as well as several pieces from Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra  members, Jesse Sharps and Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq that again touched me deeply.  One of the most moving aspects of the evening was hearing that when Heller reached out to the Tapscott family to find the music for “Eternal Egypt Suite” by Abdul-Khaliq…they said they didn’t have it but try to get in touch with Fuasi in Berlin.  From Berlin, apparently Fuasi didn’t have the charts of his own composition either, so he transcribed it from I believe a 1976 recording, then wrote brand new arrangement’s for the musicians assembled last night (35 years later!).  Musically the most riveting moment of the night happened when the Combo closed their first half with Tapscott’s “Warriors All”…while young Carl Pillot was holding it down with that dramatic drum roll, out of nowhere the members of the second set big band joined in with trombones, trumpets and tambourines from the rafters and rear corners of the Dudley House dining room where the concert took place…not only does Heller have amazing musical taste and such a sincere and rigorous respect for the music…he can conduct and do pirouettes at the same time.

I’m of course still somewhat lost, disoriented, pained to hear/see the music of the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra performed without a single musician of African descent in either band as far as I could tell…I just don’t exactly know what to make of that…but I know that made the World Stage/homesickness in me well up as the evening went on, no matter how strong the performances were.  Luckily I did see Boston’s own Makanda Project members John Kordalewski and Diane Richardson as I was heading out, for a little sense of Leimert Park style community warmth.  I look forward to reaching out to Heller and raising this along side my deep gratitude for his commitment to bringing this profound and prayer-full Griot’s music from Los Angeles (and Berlin) to this chilly corner of Cambridge.  I’m especially grateful for the concert because I realize that so many of the times I was fortunate enough to hear Horace Taspcott, I admit I was so distracted or…dumbfounded by Dr. Art Davis’s bass clinic two feet away from my face at the Stage, or blinded by Maestro Billy Higgins’ smile, or if Dwight Trible was singing…forget about it…I would be lost with wondering how a human voice can deliver that much glory, I don’t know if I paid as much attention as I should have to the radical compositions I was hearing from Tapscott.  Last night was an awakening, and for that again I thank Heller and all of the Dudley House Musicians.