Phil Schaap’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz music and history has served him well: outside of hosting jazz programs on Columbia University’s WKCR station in New York since 1970 (a labor of love as he is not paid), he has won six Grammy Awards for his liner notes, audio engineering, and production. In addition, he became curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City where he created the Swing University educational program, which continues to offer public jazz listening and appreciation classes with the goal of increasing and cultivating audiences for the music.
Schaap was raised by jazz-loving parents, which precipitated his lifelong love for the music. His father, a translator of many early jazz histories and discographer, introduced his son to well-known jazz musicians early on. His mother met Count Basie’s drummer Jo Jones backstage at a concert and introduced him to her son; Jones was so impressed by the knowledge Schaap had at such a young age that he ended up becoming his occasional babysitter. In his freshman year at Columbia College in 1970, Schaap began deejaying on the Columbia University radio station WKCR-FM. From the mid-1970s until 1992, he booked the artists for the Jazz at the West End series in New York City and managed the Count Basie alumni band the Countsmen.
Schaap worked as the assistant director of the Jazz Oral History Project for the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) at Rutgers University in the early 1980s, producing 162 interviews. From 1984 to 1991, Schaap was the archivist for the Savoy Jazz label, and also worked for other record companies such as PolyGram, Sony, and Universal. Throughout his career, Schaap has been involved as audio engineer, producer, and writer of liner notes with the remastering and re-release of hundreds of archival recordings by legendary jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday. He also worked on restoring the Dean Benedetti home-recordings of Charlie Parker for the Mosaic label and is credited with unearthing previously unreleased recordings such Ella Fitzgerald’s 41st birthday concert in Rome, Italy.
Schaap has taught jazz at Columbia University, Princeton University, and Rutgers University, and currently teaches in the graduate school at Juilliard. Schaap has also conducted and collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with jazz legends. He continues to host two shows on WKCR, Bird Flight and Traditions in Swing, six days a week, and shares some of his jazz historical research on his website.
Selected Discography (as producer)
Ella Fitzgerald, Ella in Rome—The Birthday Concert, Verve, 1958 (released 1988)
Charlie Parker, The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings, Mosaic, 1947-48 (released 1990)
Billie Holiday, The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959, Verve, 1945-1959 (released 1993)
Miles Davis & Gil Evans, The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, Columbia, 1957-68 (released 1996)
Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, Columbia, 1925-30 (released 2001)
The National Endowment for the Arts began, including its gifts for jazz, at the time I first lectured on behalf of the art form. Now, at the other end of my teaching career, I am awed to be named by the Arts Endowment as a Jazz Master.