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The Dark Tree

The Dark Tree

Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles

Steven L. Isoardi
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In the early 1960s, pianist 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 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 collective, was at the forefront of the vital community-based arts movement 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.

In The Dark Tree, Steven L. Isoardi draws on one hundred in-depth interviews with the Arkestra's participants to tell the history of the important and largely overlooked community arts movement of Black Los Angeles. This revised and updated edition brings the story of the Arkestra up to date, as its ethos and aesthetic remain vital forces in jazz and popular music to this day.


Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition ix
Acknowledgments xv
1. Ancestral Echoes: Roots of the African American Community Artist 1
2. Ballad for Samuel: The Legacy of Central Avenue and the 1950s Avant-Garde in Los Angeles 19
3. Lino's Pad: African American Los Angeles and the Formation of the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) 43
4. The Giant is Awakened: The Watts Uprising and Cultural Resurgence 69
5. Warriors All: UGMA in the Middle of It 117
6. The Mothership: From UGMA/UGMAA to the Pan Afrikan Peoples Akrestra and UGMAA 141
7. To the Great House: The Arkestra in the 1970s 179
8. Thoughts of Dar es Salaam: The Institutionalization of UGMAA 215
9. At the Crossroads: The Ark and UGMAA in the 1980s 259
10. The Hero's Last Dance: The '90s Resurgence 285
11. Aiee! The Phantom: Horace Tapscott 311
12. The Black Apostles: The Arkestra/UGMAA Ethos/Aesthetic: Music, Artists, Community 341
Epilogue: The Post-Horace Pan African Peoples Arkestra 363
Appendix: A View from the Bottom: The Music of Horace Tapscott and The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, by Roberto Miranda 369
Notes 379
Bibliography 407
Index 425


Steven L. Isoardi is an independent scholar; editor of Songs of the Unsung: The Musical and Social Journey of Horace Tapscott, also published by Duke University Press, and Jazz Generations: A Life in American Music and Society; and coeditor of Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles. He is the author of The Music Finds a Way: A PAPA/UGMAA Oral History of Growing Up in Postwar South Central Los Angeles.


  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books; Revised and Updated edition (September 8, 2023)
  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • ISBN-10: 147802528X
  • ISBN-13: 9781478025283
  • Item Weight: 1.44 pounds
  • Dimensions: 5.75 x 1 x 8.75 inches


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