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

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9780520245914: The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles

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 Tree is 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 acclaimed Central Avenue Sounds, which documented the secular music history of the first half of the twentieth century and which the San Francisco Examiner called one of the best jazz books ever compiled.”

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From the Inside Flap:

"Isoardi has done a wonderful job collecting oral histories and integrating them into an engaging, sophisticated, and highly readable book. He provides great insight into the artistic goals, political aspirations, internal conflicts, and social terrain that shaped the experiences of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. He shows us quite clearly that jazz musicians continued to work within and gain sustenance from working class black communities long after the moment when some observers deemed the music irrelevant to them."—Eric Porter, author of What Is This Thing Called Jazz?

"In these pages, Horace Tapscott says to the audience, 'This is one more you wrote through us.' And this is what Steve Isoardi has done here: given voice to the nearly lost history of a revolutionary community movement through its key players. Epic in scope, dazzling in detail and sensual as any Coltrane solo, this rare book—informative, intimate, lyrical, scholarly, nuanced, and essential—reads like no history book you've read before."—Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and Becoming Abigail

"The Dark Tree is just wonderful. One cannot understand the history of black arts on the West Coast without a thorough assessment of this movement; Isoardi knows this history so well, and tells a much bigger story. The book does a fantastic job of capturing the nitty gritty nature of the music scene, and of resurrecting local figures in the Arkestra who have never gotten any press for their astounding musicianship. This is a remarkable book."—Robin Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"This is a revelatory document, virtuosically combining scholarship and oral history to connect the dots of African American music on the west coast. Far more than a mere historical 'overdub' of an underdocumented scene, this book disrupts the mythic notions of jazz history, showing instead how music and community unfold as one. Both a celebratory and a cautionary tale, it also delivers some of the most frank and eye-opening musicians' accounts since Arthur Taylor's Notes and Tones."—Vijay Iyer, musician/composer, New York City

About the Author:

Steven Isoardi is on the Social Studies faculty at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles. He is the coeditor of Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles (California, 1998) and the editor of Jazz Generations: A Life in American Music and Society (2000) and Songs of the Unsung: The Musical and Social Journey of Horace Tapscott (2001).

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