and The Featured Composers
The mission of LACPAPA is to secure, feature, and expand the archive of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, a collection of hundreds of compositions from African American and community composers connected to the Arkestra and progressive improvised music scene of Los Angeles dating back to the early 1960s. New recordings of select pieces and providing access to purchase scores from the archive is the current primary focus of the project.
Artist Biography by Chris Kelsey
While Los Angeles is the power center of the popular music industry, it's always been a backwater as far as jazz is concerned. That's not because L.A. hasn't produced more than it's share of great players: a roll call of major players who made L.A. their home at some point would include Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and Charles Mingus, among many others. L.A.'s second-class status in the jazz world probably has more to do with the fact that it's about as geographically distant from the music's capitol -- New York City -- as is possible while still remaining on the same continent. Given the fact that, over the last several decades, New York critics have become probably the most provincial in jazzdom, it's little wonder that so many great California-based musicians are less critically vaunted than they might justifiably be. Simply put, being famous is not something a jazz musician from Los Angeles can count on. Horace Tapscott was the quintessence of the neglected Californian. Tapscott was a powerful, highly individual, bop-tinged pianist with avant-garde leanings; a legend and something of a father figure to latter generations of L.A.-based free jazz players, Tapscott labored mostly on the fringes of the critical mainstream, recording prolifically, but mostly for the small, poorly distributed Nimbus label. The quality of the music on those releases, however, was almost invariably high. His pianistic technique was hard and percussive, likened by some to that of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols and every bit as distinctive. In contexts ranging from freely improvised duos to highly arranged big bands, Tapscott exhibited a solo and compositional voice that was his own.
Tapscott was born in Houston, TX, to a musical family. His mother, Mary Malone Tapscott, was a professional singer and pianist. At the age of nine, Tapscott moved with his family to Los Angeles. Tapscott reached maturity at a critical time in the history of L.A. jazz. The late '40s saw musicians the caliber of Dexter Gordon, Art Tatum, and Coleman Hawkins play the city's Central Avenue clubs with regularity; Charlie Parker also made the city home for a brief -- and infamous -- period. Saxophonist Buddy Collette and drummer Gerald Wilson were friends of the family. In his teens, Tapscott studied music with Dr. Samuel Brown and Lloyd Reese (students of the latter also included saxophonists Frank Morgan and Eric Dolphy). Tapscott studied trombone and piano. He graduated from Jefferson High School in 1952. He enlisted in the Air Force and played in a service band while stationed in Wyoming. After his discharge, Tapscott returned to Los Angeles, where he worked freelance. A stint as a trombonist with Lionel Hampton's big band took Tapscott to New York in 1959, where he was introduced by Eric Dolphy to John Coltrane. After a brief period in the city, Tapscott moved back to L.A. Around this time, Tapscott began concentrating on the piano.
In the '60s, Tapscott became involved with the jazz avant-garde and community activism. In 1961, he helped found the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension, which eventually spawned his Pan-African People's Arkestra. Both groups were designed to further the interests of creative young Black jazz musicians. In 1968, Tapscott composed and arranged music for an acclaimed LP by the saxophonist Sonny Criss entitled The Birth of the New Cool. He had also begun leading a small group that included the soon-to-be-famous alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe. This band produced Tapscott's first album as a leader, The Giant Is Awakened, in 1969. Tapscott spent the next decade playing his own music and working in the community. His activism got him labeled as a troublemaker by many in the musical establishment. Paying gigs were scarce in the '70s, although Tapscott continued to create, performing at Parks and Recreation events and in churches around Watts. During this period, his only regular gig was at the Troubador on L.A.'s Restaurant Row.
In 1977, Tapscott revived the dormant Pan-Afrikan People's Arkestra. The band became a multidisciplinary troupe, combining music with dance and poetry. The group came to the attention of producer Tom Albach, who began recording Tapscott for the Nimbus label. The long succession of albums to follow would become the basis of the pianist/composer's small but growing reputation. Albach also booked European tours for Tapscott, thus exposing his music worldwide. In 1979, Tapscott recorded with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Art Taylor. In the '80s, Tapscott continued to flourish creatively as he continued to record for Nimbus (and in 1989, Hat Art) and perform both at home and abroad. In 1994, Tapscott took the entire Arkestra on a tour of Europe, with Blythe as a featured soloist. In the '90s, Tapscott had the opportunity -- long denied -- of recording for a well-distributed domestic label. Arabesque issued aiee! the Phantom, a quintet date that featured bassist Reggie Workman, drummer Andrew Cyrille, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and alto saxophonist Abraham Burton. Arabesque followed that with Thoughts of Dar-Es Salaam (1997), a trio set that included bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Billy Hart. At the time of his death in 1999 of lung cancer, it seemed that Tapscott's work was finally beginning to receive the attention it deserved.
Linda Hill was a founding member of UGMAA and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra along with Horace Tapscott and was often the principal pianist at concerts and recordings during her time in the band. She is one of the most prolific and exceptional composers from the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and could by referred to as the principal lyric writer for the group, having penned them for many of the most significant songs from the Arkestra repertroire, including the classic "Little Africa" which she composed as well, and which still serves as the closer to most Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra concerts to this day.
While some of her compositions like "Dem Folks" and "Little Afrika" are some of the most significant pieces featured by the group, there are numerous others that have not yet been featured or recorded that reflect a boldness and deep sense of culture such as "Somali Man." "Dream Nigguh," "Listen My Children," and many others. She also wrote a Children's Play that was performed with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra early on, and she served for years as one of the central community activist in the group.
Ernest Lee Straughter is an American composer, conductor, songwriter and record producer, born in Los Angeles, California. Straughter, who is sometimes credited as "E. Straughter" or "E. Strouder", has written songs for Phyllis Hyman, Horace Tapscott, Bobbi Humphrey, and Azar Lawrence. Ernest played flute in the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and was the principal scribe under Horace Tapscott until he left, and was replaced by Jesse Sharps in the late 60s. He was also a session musician in several commercially successful songs, notably as pianist for the 1986 single On My Own, recorded by Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle.
At 8 years old Straughter was first inspired to play music when he played on Liberace's Glass piano at his Hollywood home: where his aunt Gladys Luckie worked for Liberace as a home keeper and chef for 40 years. Straughter comes from a musical family where his father Earl Straughter and mother Sylvia Straughter; both played piano. Ernest's brothers Ray and David Straughter are both song writers and musicians respectively. Ernest's mother started him off on piano with Claude Debussy's "Claire de Lune", along with the Broadway Pop classics of George Gershwin and Rogers & Hammerstein. These songs still influence his compositions & orchestration style today.
Straughter's dream of becoming an artist / songwriter were first supported by the President of 20th Century Fox Records Neil Portnow, who signed his group "Executive" to a record contract in 1981. Straughter composed the Blue Magic classic "I waited" along with Earth Wind & Fire's lead singer Phillip Bailey and Luther Waters most notable for soundtrack vocalist on the award winning animated movie The Lion King. Ernest also collaborated with Lionel Ritchie on the song "Fly Way" performed by The 40 Thevez and The Dramatics,on their debut album "Honor Amongst Thevz" executive produced by Coolio. Straughter is a contributing producer on rap artist Coolio's third studio album "My Soul". Which peaked at number 39 on Billboards' top 200 album charts. Straughter's Latin flavored song "Spirit of Love was recorded by Grammy Award winning Latin Icon Eddie Palmieri. Ernest along with his brother Ray Straughter collaborated with Luther Waters to pen the song "People Moving" performed by Azar Lawrence. The title track "People Moving" was sampled on the opening track "Save The Children" for the Joey Badass 2015 #1 hip-hop Billboard charted Album.
Ernest continues to compose, record, and produce music for film, television, and notable artist while employing the "New World Symphony" that he and brother Ray Straughter founded.
Jesse Sharps is a virtuoso on soprano saxophone, multiple woodwinds including bass clarinet, bassoon and many types of flute including wood and bass flute. He is also an accomplished accordion player. Whether as a solo artist, playing in a group, leading a trio, quintet or putting together a large ensemble, Jesse brings a powerful and creative force to the music and performance of each show. As a group leader, he draws on a rich heritage of the great musicians and composers he has worked with and studied under.
From studying with Cecil Taylor to spending years in the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra as one of its principal scribes and bandleaders under the legendary Horace Tapscott, Jesse has deep roots in the local Los Angeles area. Jesse spent many years in Germany serving with the Army and Air Force bands, composing, performing and teaching music to young performers. He taught music to young performers extensively in Germany after finishing his tours of duty in the Army and Air Force bands. In 2005 Jesse returned to Los Angeles to archive the music of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and founded The Gathering with a historic summit and recording session that featured members of PAPA, many local legends, and rising young stars from the community. From that date The Gathering has performed at festivals, local venues, released multiple recordings, and is featured in the documentary film The Gathering: Roots & Branches of Los Angeles Jazz.
Jesse is now professionally trained to score films and television. He has just completed scoring his first feature film, "Flock of Four" about a search for a legendary jazz musician on Central Avenue in Los Angeles in 1959. Jesse continues to lead The Gathering, bringing together established elders and younger players, in the tradition of Horace Tapscott's Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and works tirelessly to continue securing, recording, and archiving the music of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra.
Jesse currently resides in Los Angeles.
Roberto Miranda joined the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra at a young age and eventually became one of the most prolific composers in the group. He lists his mentors as Horace Tapscott, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, and Kenny Burrell, all of whom he performed and recorded with on numerous occasions. He eventually became the principal bass player for Horace's smaller ensembles in the 80s and 90s when performing live and touring. Over the years he led his own groups, released several recordings as bandleader, and has recorded and performed with numerous renowned musicians.
In 2005 Roberto joined Jesse Sharps for the founding summit and recording session of The Gathering at CalArts in Valencia, CA and led the group in a stunning improvised conduction of his piece "Agony In The Garden." Roberto continued to perform with The Gathering in following years, and is featured as well in the new Gathering album "Healing Suite." The album is being released by the label, The Village, started by the next generation in the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arketstra. Roberto continues to perform with The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra which celebrated their 60th anniversary in a stunning live concert at the 2021 Angel City Jazz Festival.
Ray Straughter, along with brother Ernest, was a one of the first generation members of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. E.P. (Elysian Park) is one of his compositions that was featured by the Arkestra and following his time with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra he went on to write music for Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Azar Lawrence, and many others.
Ray recently co-founded The New World Symphony with brother Ernest as a resource to perform and record their writing and composing that has gotten so extensive over recent years for film, television, and recording artists that they needed a group that could be regularly brought together
Robertson played in the big band of music teacher Alma Hightower in the 1940s . In the following two decades he worked as a musician and arranger a. a. in the big bands and ensembles of Clarence Daniels ( Do the Deal ), Maxwell Davis , Jimmy Giuffre , Teddy Edwards , Lionel Hampton , Gerald Wilson , Clark Terry and Gil Fuller . Together with Eric Dolphy , he led a big band interested in expanding the bebop harmonies. He also played with Dolphy and Billy Higgins in the house band of the Oasis Club . With the pianist Linda Hill and the band leader Horace Tapscott he founded the underground musicians association (UGMA) in 1961 , which was later renamed the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA).
In the 1970s and 1980s Robertson was a member of Roy Porter's big band Sound Machine and Horace Tapscott's Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra , for which he also composed. In the field of jazz he was involved in 43 recording sessions between 1950 and 1984, as well as recordings by Johnny Hartman , Al Hibbler , Joe Pass , Nancy Wilson and the pop band The Monkees .