Phil Schaap, Grammy-Winning Jazz D.J. and Historian, Dies at 70Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, music, jazz, music history, radio
Phil Schaap, who explored the intricacy and history of jazz in radio programs that he hosted, Grammy-winning liner notes that he wrote, music series that he programmed and classes that he taught, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 70.
His partner of 17 years, Susan Shaffer, said the cause was cancer, which he had had for four years.
Mr. Schaap was host of an assortment of jazz radio programs over the years, but he was perhaps best known as a fixture on WKCR-FM, the student-run radio station of Columbia University, where his delightfully (some would say infuriatingly) obsessive daily program about the saxophonist Charlie Parker, “Bird Flight,” was an anchor of the morning schedule for decades.
On that show, he would parse Parker recordings and minutiae endlessly. In a 2008 article about Mr. Schaap in The New Yorker, David Remnick described one such discourse in detail, relating Mr. Schaap’s aside about the Parker track “Okiedoke,” which veered into a tangent about the pronunciation and meaning of the title and its possible relation to Hopalong Cassidy movies.
“Perhaps it was at this point,” Mr. Remnick wrote, “that listeners all over the metropolitan area, what few remained, either shut off their radios, grew weirdly fascinated, or called an ambulance on Schaap’s behalf.”
But if jazz was an obsession for Mr. Schaap, it was one built on knowledge. Since 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 liner notes — for a Charlie Parker boxed set, not surprisingly (“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 especially adept at unearthing and remastering the works of jazz greats of the past. He shared the best historical album Grammy as a producer on the Holiday and Davis-Evans recordings, as well as on “Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings” (2000).