Grammy-winning DJ and jazz historian Phil Schaap dies at 70

Phil Schaap, who explored the complexity and history of jazz in the radio shows he hosted, the Grammy-winning liner notes he wrote, the musical series he programmed, and the lessons he wrote. ‘he taught, died Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 70 years old.

His 17-year-old partner, Susan Shaffer, said the cause was cancer, which he had had for four years.

Mr. Schaap hosted an assortment of jazz radio shows over the years, but he was perhaps best known as an item on WKCR-FM, the student-run radio station of the Columbia University, where his deliciously (some would say maddeningly) obsessive daily program on saxophonist Charlie Parker, “Bird Flight,” has been a staple of the morning schedule for decades.

In this show, he would analyze Parker’s recordings and minutiae ad infinitum. In a 2008 article on Mr. Schaap in The New Yorker, David Remnick described one of these speeches in detail, chronicling Mr. Schaap’s sideways on the Parker track “Okiedoke”, which veered into a tangent. on the pronunciation and meaning of the title and its possible relation to the Hopalong Cassidy films.

“Perhaps it was at this point,” Mr Remnick wrote, “that listeners across the metro area, what was little left, either turned off their radios, became strangely fascinated, or called an ambulance in the name of of Schaap. “

But if jazz was an obsession for Mr. Schaap, it was an obsession with knowledge. Since his childhood he had absorbed everything there was to know about Parker and countless other jazz players, singers, records and subgenres. He won three Grammys for album cover notes – for a Charlie Parker box set, unsurprisingly (“Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve”, 1989), but also for “The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve, 1945- 1959 “(1993) and” Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings “(1996).

He did more than write and talk about jazz; he also knew his way around a studio and was particularly adept at unearthing and remastering the works of jazz greats of the past. He shared the best historic Grammy album as a producer on the Holiday and Davis-Evans recordings, as well as on “Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings” (2000).

Over the years he has imparted his vast knowledge of jazz to countless students, teaching classes at Columbia, Princeton, Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard School, Rutgers University, Jazz at Lincoln Center and elsewhere.

“They say I’m a history teacher,” he said in a video interview for the National Endowment for the Arts, which this year named him Jazz Master, the country’s highest official honor for a figure. alive with jazz, but he saw his role differently.

“I teach listening,” he says.

He had what one newspaper article called a “fly paper memento” for jazz history, so much so that musicians sometimes relied on him to fill in their own spotty memories on playing dates and the like.

“He knows more about us than we know about ourselves,” great drummer Max Roach told The New York Times in 2001.

Mr. Remnick said it simply in the New Yorker article.

“In the capital of jazz,” he writes, “he is its most passionate and talkative fan.

Philip Van Noorden Schaap was born on April 8, 1951 in Queens.

His mother, Marjorie Wood Schaap, was a classically trained librarian and pianist, and his father, Walter, was a jazz scholar and vice-president of a company that produced educational filmstrips.

Phil grew up in the Hollis section of Queens, which has become a magnet for jazz musicians. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge lived nearby. He would see saxophonist Budd Johnson every day at the bus stop.

“Everywhere you turned, it seemed, there was a giant walking down the street,” Schaap told Newsday in 1995.

At 6, he was collecting records. Jo Jones, who had been the drummer for Count Basie’s big band for many years, sometimes babysat for him; they were playing records and Mr. Jones was explaining what they were hearing.

Seeing the 1959 film “The Gene Krupa Story”, about the famous jazz drummer, fueled his interest even more, and by the time he was at Jamaica High School in Queens, he was constantly talking about jazz to his classmates. .

“As much as they gave me a hard time and isolated me like a nutcase,” he told Newsday, “they knew what I was talking about. My peers might have laughed at me, but they knew who Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were.

Mr. Schaap became a DJ at WKCR in 1970 as a freshman at Columbia, where he was studying history. He embarked on a lifelong mission to keep jazz’s past alive.

“One thing I wanted to convey,” he told the “Jazz Night in America” radio show this year, “was that the music didn’t start with John Coltrane.”

He graduated from Columbia in 1974, but he was still broadcasting on WKCR half a century later. He started “Bird Flight” in 1981 and – as the host of “Jazz Night in America” ​​bassist Christian McBride noted on the recent Mr. Schaap episode – he kept the show going for about 40 years. , longer than Parker, who died at 34, was alive. He has also hosted an assortment of other jazz programs at WKCR and other stations over the years including WNYC in New York and WBGO in Newark, NJ.

In 1973, he started programming jazz at the West End, a bar near Columbia, and continued to do so into the 1990s. He particularly enjoyed bringing in older swing-era musicians, offering them – as he said in a 2017 interview with The West Side Spirit – “a beautiful last chapter of their life”.

In the “Jazz Night in America” ​​interview, he said the West End series was one of his proudest accomplishments.

“A lot of them weren’t even performing anymore,” he said of saxophonist Earle Warren, trombonist Dicky Wells and the many other musicians he put on stage there.

“They were my friends,” he added. “They were my teachers. They were geniuses.

Mr. Schaap, who lived in Queens and Manhattan, also did a bit of management – including Countsmen, a group whose members included Mr. Wells and Mr. Warren – and was the commissioner of Jazz at Lincoln Center. for a certain time.

As an educator, facilitator, and archivist, he could focus on details that would escape a casual listener. He compared Armstrong’s and Holiday’s recordings to show how Armstrong influenced Holiday’s vocal style. It would require students to be able to hear the difference between a solo from Armstrong and one from cornet player Bix Beiderbecke.

Mr. Schaap’s marriage to Ellen LaFurn in 1997 was brief. Mrs. Shaffer survives him.

This year’s honor at the National Endowment for the Arts was the AB Spellman NEA Jazz Masters for Jazz Advocacy Fellowship, awarded to “an individual who has made a major contribution to the appreciation, knowledge and advancement of art form of American jazz “.

In an interview with The Times in 1984, Mr. Schaap spoke of his motivation for his radio shows and other efforts to spread the gospel of jazz.

“I was a music student at a public school for 12 years and never heard of Duke Ellington’s name,” he said. “Now I can correct such wrongs. I can be a Johnny Appleseed thanks to the transmitter.

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