Phil Schaap

Archivist, Educator, Historian, and Jazz Radio Host (Award for Jazz Advocacy)
Portrait of man in suit

Photo courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center


Phil Schaap—recipient of the 2021 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy— had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz music and history, and it 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 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 was 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 taught jazz at Columbia University, Princeton University, and Rutgers University, and the graduate school at Juilliard. Schaap also conducted and collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with jazz legends. 

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.


For Phil Schaap, jazz continues to be a wonder, a joy, and a passion.

Music Credits: “Orinthology” composed and performed by Charlie Parker from the album Charlie Parker Bird of Paradise.

“Yardbird Suite” composed and performed by Charlie Parker from the album Charlie Parker on Dial: The Complete Sessions.

“NY” composed and performed by Kosta T from the cd Soul Sand, used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Phil Schaap: All jazz education is performance oriented. Well, who’s going to train the listeners? I’ve spent a lifetime trying. I’m trying to create an audience for the musicians. That’s my job. Their job is to be musicians and sometimes I help them in that endeavor, too, but no audience knows sound. I don’t care how well you play.

Jo Reed: That was educator, radio host, producer and 2021 NEA Jazz Master, Phil Schaap, and this is Art Works, the weekly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. Phil Schaap is an original, a legendary radio host since 1970 at WKCR, an award-winning producer and audio engineer with a facility for remastering jazz classics, a renowned teacher of jazz, a virtuoso of jazz history in general and Charlie Parker in particular and one of the great story tellers. Phil Schaap has won six Grammy Awards for his liner notes, audio engineering and production. Schaap has taught jazz at Columbia University, Princeton and Rutgers and he’s currently teaching in the graduate school at Julliard. In addition, he became curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center where he created Swing University, an educational program that teaches classes that cultivate listening and an appreciation for jazz. From the mid-1970s until 1992, he booked musicians for jazz at the West End, a Manhattan club with nightly shows seven days a week. Phil Schaap has also conducted and collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with jazz legends many of whom were close friends and mentors. There’s little wonder that Phil Schaap is the 2021 recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Master’s Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. Phil Schaap’s entire life has been immersed in jazz. He was literally raised on jazz in the company of extraordinary jazz musicians who were close family friends. Jazz was bred into his bones as a child thanks to his parents and their connection to the music.

Phil Schaap: My father was tone deaf yet he had a love for jazz. He also was a history student, a specialty in French history. He went abroad as a teenager to study. So when he was in France, he became involved with the early French speaking scholars of the art form and translated for them. My father translated the legendary 1919 review of Sidney Bouchard [ph?] at the conductor answer may wrote that predicted that jazz would be the musical highway of the twentieth century which it was. So he had jazz chops. Now my mother and my mother’s side of the family are western classical musicians well trained. They’re the teachers. My grandparents were even music teachers in the late nineteenth century and my mother, this is so long ago they didn’t even call them beatniks yet. She was a bohemian and as something of a renegade to her family she embraced jazz music. They met. My father was smart. He was doing a lot of work for the French jazzies and he realized being smarter than me that there was no future in jazz employment. So he and the famous photographer, Bill Gottlieb, William P. Gottlieb, left jazz together and went into educational materials which was their career. That’s the parent side of the story. They were both fascinated with jazz. On my mother’s side there’s musical talent. On my father’s side there’s a scholarly nature.

Jo Reed: I’m curious about your mother particularly since she was a musician and your family you say was tone deaf, did they help you to learn to listen to the music and hear the music?

Phil Schaap: My mother’s guidance was more astute than my father’s preferences. She would listen to records with me and point out where the real breadstick, as jazz people used to say, the best stuff was and that was very helpful and as helpful and much more harsh than my mother was our neighbor. We lived in a jazz community in Hollis, Hollis, New York. It’s in Queens County, part of New York City and that’s how we knew Lester Young and Buck Clayton and Milt Hinton and Wendell Marshall’s family, the bassist with Ellington, and the blues and even gospel field, I was very close with Sonny Terry, the legendary harmonica player, but about 150 yards from our house was Lennie Tristano and it took me, you’re going to forgive me if Lennie Tristano and I are much better friends now that he’s been deceased for 42 years because he yelled at me all the time and it was after his death that Sal Mosca pointed out to me, that’s one of Tristano’s principals, he said “Sure, Lennie yelled at you every day. He was just trying to save you some time,” and it was Tristano, I used to hook up his stereo. He was sightless and in exchange I’d tape his Charlie Parker rarities and that was really the start of the rarities aspect of my Charlie Parker collection. When I was child, Ross Russell of Dial Records was closing up the firm and he stayed for a few days in our home and he left behind for me a complete set of the Charlie Parker Dials. I play them on the radio. They’re great things in terms of their own sonics, but of course for the astounding art of Charlie Parker. <music plays>

Jo Reed: I’m struck when I read about you not just how much music and jazz was a part of your early life, but how much the musicians were as well and I understand you lived in a jazz community, but would you just go and knock on the door of Milt Hinton and say hi, I’m Phil Schaap. I live down the street and I want to talk to you about whatever.

Phil Schaap: Well, I certainly was outgoing in a way that would find me knocking on strangers’ doors, jazz musicians doors and asking in. I did it to my family, my extended family and the extended family included jazz musicians. So each one is a different story. Tristano gave a concert at the Hollis Theater, a movie theater that added live music and my mother and father and I went there and there were three of in the audience and there were six musicians on stage. It’s when I met Lee Konits. I met Milt Hinton through his wife, Mona, who I met in a civil rights protest in 1959. I was undoubtedly the youngest on the picket line and she was a community activist. She was so nice to jazz musicians and people in general and then she brought me to the Hinton home and Milt had an incredible collection. I mean even world class by any standard and I would listen to music with him in the basement. Can I tell one more about Roy Eldridge?

Jo Reed: Yes, please.

Phil Schaap: I knew that Roy Eldridge had moved into Hollis. He would call it in later years Jolly Hollis and I already was in love with Roy Eldridge’s music and so I was desperate to meet him and unlike many of the jazz people who lived in the neighborhood he was on the road so much that you couldn’t really find him in the neighborhood. He wasn’t there. So I knocked on the Eldridge’s door and Roy’s wife, Vi, answered and she explained that Roy wasn’t home, but I could come in and she brought out some milk and cookies for me and I watched television with her. Eventually Roy was home and he became one of the most important people in my life.

Jo Reed: I have to know how you brought home Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Phil Schaap: I met Rahsaan Roland Kirk in my high school years who became really one of the great gurus. He was different than my mother in listening to the music and we had tremendous parties. These would be my parent’s parties for the musicians in Hollis, Queens and in my adolescence, typical teenager I had a veracious appetite and Rahsaan who was not a teenager he ate a lot, too, and we had an eating contest which I tied him in. It was only a tie. So then I was tight with Rahsaan and when the West End started, he would come in on Sunday afternoons not to perform although he would stay for the evening’s performance, but I had a nice audio system hooked up in the sound system of the West End to play music in between sets and then we would have these listening parties. They were in a small community quite famous and there were a couple of them where you the crowd in the West End jazz room was wall to wall standing room on a Sunday afternoon with no music and far sparser crowd that night for the band. So Rahsaan would stay and I loved him and I’m lucky that he thought something of me.

Jo Reed: I know that Jo Jones who was Count Basie’s drummer was a mentor, dear friend and a babysitter for you. How did this even come to be?

Phil Schaap: Jo Jones’ impact and teaching to me is much more important in my adolescence that my childhood, but of course that I knew him as a very young fellow is the more charming aspect of the story. The story goes like this. My family attended the Randall’s Island Jazz Festival and somehow my mother and I got backstage. I’m kindergarten, first grade age. She’s holding my hand and there was a guy talking to my mother and he said “Well, you’ve gotten backstage, but if you really like to get into the inner sanctum and meet the great Joe Williams, I can accommodate you.” Hm hm. So my mother said “Well, that’s all very well and good, but of course Jimmy Rushing was the more appropriate singer for the Count Basie Orchestra,” and standing a few feet away was Jo Jones and he said “Adam, I heard that. That’s amazing. Thank you. You seem to know about our music,” and then my mother said to Jo, “That’s true, but my little boy here knows more about it than I do,” and he looked down at this five year old and said “Okay, mister,” I wouldn’t be called mister again for another 15 years. “Okay, mister. Who’s Prince Robinson?” and I said “The tenor saxophone in McKinney’s Cotton Pickers,” and it might be the only time I ever quieted Jo Jones. He was more than stunned and then he turned to my mother and said “You got a new babysitter,” and I would go over to his apartment after school. We’d watch Bugs Bunny on cartoons. At the end he would have a book pulled down from the shelf and he said “All right. Read 20 pages to me,” and I would read them. It took some time and then he said “Go home and tell your mother I’m not interfering with your education.” That’s what a lesson with Jo Jones was like.

Jo Reed: Did he help you learn how to listen to the music or listen to the music deeply?

Phil Schaap: Absolutely. We would listen to a record. I mean a record. I mean even one side of the 78 RPM disk, a single tune, and then we would listen to it again and he would make remarks about it and one of my secrets with Jo Jones since I never ask questions. He hated that, but he asked questions and he gave me a real education by challenging me to hear the substantive matters on these records and we would spend the whole day listening to as little as three minutes of music. It was very intensive repetitive listening. I guess you could say he’s influence on me.

Jo Reed: Phil, you have this extraordinary memory. You have a feeling for the music. You can listen to the music. Did anyone ever suggest that you play an instrument?

Phil Schaap: I did play an instrument. I was a trumpeter. I was a music major. I ended up brokering my college education by being an American history major with a minor in music. It was the only way to be a jazz student in my day. It’s funny because I teach on the [ph?] graduate level at Julliard and my students have degrees in jazz and, of course, I don’t because you couldn’t get one, but I did play. There’s the old saying those who can’t do teach and I played the trumpet. I had a nice facility in the upper register, but no other redeeming features. I played sharp which I guess is a little bit better than playing flat, but it’s still wrong and I gave my trumpet to Ed “Tiger” Lewis, the Brooklyn bebopper. The world’s a better place for it.

Jo Reed: Did you get joy from it?

Phil Schaap: Yes, I did enjoy playing trumpet, but people who heard me didn’t enjoy it. So I stopped.

Jo Reed: You were a good neighbor. You got to Columbia University in 1970.

Phil Schaap: Sixty-nine.

Jo Reed: Sixty-nine. Right after the strike the campus was in transition.

Phil Schaap: I was there for the strike. As a high school student, I was there for the famous Columbia strike in April of 1968. I sided with the strikers. My cousin, the late Bill Schaap, is the lawyer who won all the cases for them versus Columbia University. Bless his heart.

Jo Reed: The radio station, WKCR, then also was part of the transition that happened at the university and it was a very fruitful time to become part of that radio station, student run, no bells, no whistles, no vacuuming.

Phil Schaap: I was familiar with WKCR because the great Robert Siegel who had been news director had basically run the radio station during the student strike in ’68 and he was as professional then as he would be for a gazillion years at NPR. So I started on the station February 2, 1970. I think that’s the reason why people think I started in school in 1970. Clearly, it was the more important part of my activities on campus. There were a couple of jazz programs on the station and even had been before the students took over the station in ’68. That fall or actually it was late summer in September on the eve of Jimi Hendrix’ death, we had a rededication of the station to musical purposes, indeed, arts purposes that were not commercially viable that could be helped by us and jazz was pivotal to that vision and I was pivotal to jazz because even though I was young I spoke with knowledge and I became pivotal to a profound expansion of jazz programming which continues to this day, a half century later initiating the festivals and the birthday broadcasts and the memorial broadcasts and I still participate.

Jo Reed: Had you ever considered radio as a place where you might, I don’t know, light? Had that been in your realm of possibilities of what you might turn to?

Phil Schaap: My vision of professional career after school was rooted in my love for jazz and directed by my being a worker for the real jazz musicians. I became a fairly accomplished audio man, sound systems for live events at a very young age. I did sound work for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. I started at the top and worked my way to the bottom, but by doing sound for Roy Eldridge I came to an understanding that I would continue to work for them during the school year as a worker, not a musician, and then in the summertime my goal was, in a sense it still remains my goal and is one of my unfulfilled missions, was to teach teachers during summers like at Teacher’s College courses that would show the social studies teachers and the music teachers jazz applications. I saw that as the perpetuation of the art form and I dutifully tried to get that going. I did a lot of demonstration courses for a man name Schneider at Teacher’s College and that was like for eight straight years. So as they say if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, but then stop because there’s no sense being a damn fool about it. So that was my vision and what radio allowed as it turned out continuing the breakthroughs of WKCR programming in the early 1970s allowed some fulfillment of the mission because we are educational and we are entertaining and we have presented an art form to new generations now for, in my case, over a half century.

Jo Reed: “Traditions in Swing” was your first show. When you thought about that show what is it that you wanted to impart to the listeners?

Phil Schaap: One thing I wanted to impart is that the music hadn’t started with John Coltrane and that the music was substantive, it was a brilliant art and that there was still an audience for it. I mean, the original audience, but I already knew that if we didn’t create a new audience we were finished. In music, all music is present tense if it’s being played or listened to. It’s one of its charms and perhaps an explanation why music and sports are often so well enjoyed by similar people because in sports if you’re watching the game or if you’re actually performing in the game, you’re a player, you can’t be thinking about Yogi Berra was Don Larsen’s catcher in October of 1956. I mean, it would be ridiculous. You got to concentrate on what you’re doing and in music this presence tense aspect is huge and wonderful. Indeed, it’s as inviting as any aspect to it other than its emotional power that it’s present tense. If you’re listening you’re doing it now. If you’re performing you’re doing it now. It’s a present tense joy. And by the way, “Traditions in Swing,” I do play recent records. It’s the styles that are up to and including bebop. It’s not the dating of the music, but over time I’ve found that few of my students even knew the earlier records existed and so I’m trying to provide an avenue to it and also in best sound. There’s a whole sonic element. My students listen to these records from the past on their phones. They’re taking diminished sound off the Internet and making it worse and then trying to figure out who’s on bass and, of course, their phone speaker barely lets you know there’s a bass player on the record.

Jo Reed: You have long been a champion of Charlie Parker’s music and your love for it is real and it’s deep. Why Charlie Parker?

Phil Schaap: Why Bird. Why Charlie Parker? Well, first of all Charlie Parker is a genius and is a virtuoso of the greatest importance, but also I noticed and I mean all the way back that he was likable. I used to go up to these incredible dinners in Larchmont, New York with the very first jazz musicians and I’m talking about people born in the 1880s and I noticed that they liked Charlie Parker. They didn’t like John Coltrane, but they liked Charlie Parker and I noticed that Ornie [ph?] Coleman’s people, they liked Charlie Parker and I came to the realization Charlie Parker might be the middle and most likable sound in the entire art of jazz. <music plays> So I went with the flow and here I sit in the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master.

Jo Reed: “Bird Flight,” your daily radio show centered on Charlie Parker is something that is a labor of love for you as is “Traditions in Swing.” I’ve done radio. This takes a lot of work and you’re doing this as a labor of love. You’re not getting paid. How are you supporting yourself?

Phil Schaap: Well, at first I didn’t. I didn’t support myself economically. So my dear friend Sharif Abdus-Salaam, he was terrified. I didn’t have health insurance. When I used to go out after the live from the West End broadcast with another KCR alum, Cliff Price, we would look in our pockets and whoever had the most money would pay for dinner, but he didn’t like it because he soon realized all the money that I had was the money I picked out in my pocket. There was no bank account behind it and that unnerved him. I had a day job in my student years at Columbia running the ID card office for them. I still did that until August 15, 1980. It was then that I got my first stint at Rutgers and that lasted for a few years and then I taught a few courses at Columbia and so I cobbled together a career by a fragment set of jobs. Eventually, I was able to get a salary at the West End. It took about a decade. The West End may be the most successful part of my career because it had a beginning, a middle and a wonderful ending. You see, the musicians who raised me a lot of them were not even performing anymore and the gig is what the gig was. You’re playing weddings and bar mitzvahs and soundtracks for commercials and TV shows and when I created the West End I created a comfortable environment for them to make their music their way again as a gig and it worked. It was 19 years, seven days a week. In many ways it’s the way I gave back and it was just a beautiful thing. Jo Jones’ last gigs were at the West End. Paul Gonsalves’ last American performances were at the West End. So I don’t need to give you the laundry list of names, but they were my friends, they were my teachers, they were geniuses and I gave them a forum for showing their stuff.

Jo Reed: You sure did. The West End was a place I loved.

Phil Schaap: Oh, hallelujah. You were at the West End.

Jo Reed: Oh, yeah. Many times. Many, many times. So yes. I speak from the heart when I say it was wonderful and it was sad to see it go. You obviously are known for your extraordinary memory and jazz musicians would actually come to you for more information about their own career that they might have forgotten and there’s a great story about Sun Ra coming to you.

Phil Schaap: And Sun Ra kidnapped me over 40 years ago. He was scheduled to speak on his own behalf at Harvard and apparently the topic was his early career and he knew that I knew something about it because he heard me doing Sun Ra programming on KCR. He knew me. He, indeed, was a customer. He came to the West End. So Sun Ra comes to the West End and we move into a quiet area outside of the music room and I started telling him. Well, you joined the musician’s union on December 15, 1934 and told him about his gigging with Fletcher Henderson and the Rum Boogie and the Club DeLisa and the recordings for Aristocrat which is the early name for what becomes Chess Records. I knew that Sunny, we called him Sunny. I knew that Sunny liked ice cream and at those corners there was an ice cream store and he liked bananas and strawberries. So I went over there and I got two pints and we’re eating the ice cream and Sun Ra said “You know, it’s still a little noisy in here. Why don’t we eat the ice cream in the car?” There’s a wonderful gentleman since deceased, Richard Wilkerson, who was like the roadie for the Arkestra and he’s driving Sun Ra around and he says “Richard, why don’t you just turn on the motor and take us for a ride while Phil tells me about me.” So we’re driving and I’m not paying any attention to the road. I’m talking to Sun Ra and enjoying it and I realize we’ve been going for some time and I looked out the window and I saw Exit 3 Greenwich which means we’re in the state of Connecticut. Sun Ra was intent on driving me all the way to Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Boston area, but I came up with the only thing that turned it all around and he drove me back to the West End. I said “I can’t go with you to Boston. I have musicians to pay.” He had Richard turn the car around and we went back to the West End and I got there for the last number like 2:30 in the morning and I paid the musicians and Sunny went on his way to Boston.

Jo Reed: You’ve taught at Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, currently at Julliard. How would you describe yourself as a teacher?

Phil Schaap: I teach listening. They say I’m a history teacher. I teach listening. I teach a different approach to listening for the Julliard graduate students and for any of my musician students over the years. I’ve started quite a few of the conservatories. I teach them a different type of listening than specific ear training or the training on their instrument or in their genre. What I teach is how to hear identity, how to notice the various schools of musical thought in jazz, how to recognize the ensemble. Is it a 12 piece band or is it 10 piece band? How many saxophones are there? Do you recognize the arranger’s style? And then there are many, many other flavors such as texture and then there are the rudimentary things. I’m always surprised considering I was a very limited musician and although I had a thorough music education up to and including college, it’s weird for me that sometimes I’m the guy who teaches concerto form to jazz students at prestigious conservatories or in college campuses. There’s a lot to teach, but all jazz education is performance oriented. Well, who’s going to train the listeners? I’ve spent a lifetime trying. I’m trying to create an audience for the musicians. That’s my job. Their job is to be musicians and sometimes I help them in that endeavor, too, but no audience knows sound. I don’t care how well you play, but if I summarize it I teach listening.

Jo Reed: Well, to continue that you began Swing University at Jazz at Lincoln Center and I want you to describe what it is that you have in mind with that because I think it piggybacks on what you just said.

Phil Schaap: Swing University at Jazz in Lincoln Center curriculum as well as a classroom situation that I created is about jazz music appreciation while a fair number of the students who have come to it are musicians and I’ve always been teaching musicians. I’ve always been with the players, but the real goal is to get you to hear and to know what to listen to in sequence. Dates are unimportant. Sequence is important. So you can follow the pathways of jazz stylistic development and also it’s economic art and also it’s sociology and political history. So teaching the sociology, the racial history. I mean, jazz if you study it from the end of the Civil War to Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. So in that pocket of 82 years jazz is the greatest avenue to study our sordid racist past and also the triumphs within that challenge to segregation because so many of these jazz figures are primaries in the struggle. I mean, Teddy Wilson integrates the American Bandstand 11 years before Jackie Robinson with the Dodgers, 18 years before Brown versus Board of Education, 28 years before the contemporary Civil Rights passages of 1964. These stories are astounding and because jazz had a modicum of popularity they exist in full detail.

Jo Reed: You’re a curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center and I’m curious about what that involves.

Phil Schaap: Being curator of Jazz in Lincoln Center most of the aspects of its educational outreach intersected with me. There were some that I was completely in charge of such as Swing University and many of the visitations would be sent out in Black History Month however inappropriate you might say and I would cover a school district with lectures on people like Roy Eldridge and Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, but working with Wynt Marsalis on the actual music and eventually when in Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola opened up and in general the programming department I would give musical assessments that would be appropriate to creating future music performances.

Jo Reed: How often would you go out pre-COVID and hear music?

Phil Schaap: In my adult lifetime most of the music I’ve heard and I’ve heard a lot of live music is involved with my working with the musicians and producing the music. So for 19 years I was at the West End either six or seven nights a week. So I heard a lot of live music and at Jazz at Lincoln Center I worked with Wynt Marsalis on producing the concerts and I’d go to the rehearsals which are great because you get to hear the music acoustically. So that’s a lot of music.

Jo Reed: I would love your thoughts about why live performance is so central for jazz, so crucial for jazz.

Phil Schaap: The performing arts in general, live is essential. Otherwise, it’s dead performing arts. There’s no reason not to have a classic form and to witness it in its earlier demonstrations now that we have film and film with sound and audio and even stereo, but it’s a dead art if it’s not actively done and while there might be a system by which the recordings could allow jazz to have an existence in the absence of live performance it’s an improviser’s art. With jazz you can ad lib. It’s the whole point. You take a new solo, take a Boston as they used to for freedom and expression.

Jo Reed: You have won six Grammy awards for a production and for liner notes. I understand the liner notes completely, but I’m curious how you became involved with producing and remastering albums.

Phil Schaap: So my writing the historical album notes which I think is still the name of the category as was said in the question writing that seems to make a lot of sense and producing certainly a remastered expanded reissue box set of somebody as important as Louis Armstrong, I mean, that’s kind of something that I guess would be in the domain of someone like me. The audio engineering is the part that isn’t clear, but is as essential as anything I’ve done in that I’ve made music sound better without performing and as I said I started at the top, I did sound for some of the biggest rock and roll acts of the middle ’60s and worked my way to the bottom very quickly, but along the way in learning about the audio I also and this was conceivably was accelerated by KCR, but certainly by the instruction I would receive from the legendary sound wizard, Jack Towers, and the far lesser known mastering engineer at Columbia Records, Harry Fine. They taught me a whole different audio science. I starting remastering and people noticed that the recordings they knew sounded better the way I presented them or that the way I played them on the air and then a few years into this, it was a skill I would say I was fairly adept at and I learned along the way you have to fix the old recordings to even attempt to hear them much less remaster them. So I became a specialist in remastering both old disks but old audio tape. I was quite inventive.

Jo Reed: Well, the epic, epic story of restoring Dean Benedetti’s home recordings of Charlie Parker those were 40 year old tapes you had to deal with.

Phil Schaap: So let me explain the whole thing. First of all, Bob Porter connected with Dean Benedetti’s older brother, Rick Benedetti, and discovered these legendary recordings. I mean, the most ridiculous thing was that they were wire recordings. It’s an early format that was dispensed with because it really wasn’t any good. I spent three years on this. It took me forever and the more difficult part was that Benedetti’s reel to reel tape, his is an earlier concept where the backing that threaded through the machine was paper. That stuff was in a tangled mess and fixing it broke it and I restored the string to the paper with Liquid Paper and that allowed it to go through the machine without tearing and then after I was done I cleaned off the Liquid Paper so that it wouldn’t eat through so that maybe if somebody wants to do it again on better equipment, who knows what analog breakthroughs lie in the future, but I also wanted to make it preserved and I want the Benedetti field recordings to last as long as they possibly can. So I preserved them as well as transferred them to the Mosaic box, the complete Dean Benedetti recordings of Charlie Parker which in one fell swoop added over a third of known improvised Charlie Parker to our ears.

Jo Reed: You have spent you whole life in service of jazz and I really would like you to tell us why it was worthy of so much and why it is worthy of so much of your attention and love and passion.

Phil Schaap: It’s music. It’s wonderful. It has the power of conveying emotion undefined in a creator’s feelings that speaks to the heart, mind and ears, perhaps in an entirely different emotional impact to the receiver of the art form. It tells the story of freedom. Jazz and freedom go hand in hand. You think about it and you dig it. So I’m into freedom and I like the fact that jazz is, too. There’s a lot of wonder there and a lifetime of listening has been its own reward.

Jo Reed: And my final question. You’re a 2021 NEA Jazz Master. I want to know what that means for you.

Phil Schaap: Being named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and the recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Master’s Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy is like a culmination or even a crowning glory to a life well spent in jazz. It’s an acknowledgement. It’s an award. It’s citation that I actually did something. This award given to me proves that I might still have something of value to give.

Jo Reed: Indeed you do, Phil, and thank you and thank you for those years of managing the West End when I would come in which is a lovely coincidence.

Phil Schaap: It’s a delight. It’s a beautiful thing.

Jo Reed: It is. Thank you. That was educator, radio host, producer and 2021 NEA Jazz Master, Phil Schaap. Join the celebration of the 2021 JEA Jazz Masters. Watch the virtual tribute concert on Thursday, April 22nd at 8:00 P.M. Eastern, 5:00 P.M. Pacific. Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and actor Delroy Lindo are the cohosts of this free event. Get more information at You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

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