NEA Statement on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Phil Schaap
It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Phil Schaap, archivist, educator, historian, jazz radio host, and recipient of the 2021 A. B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. Schaap 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 was not paid), he won six Grammy Awards for his liner notes, audio engineering, and production. In addition, he was curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City where he created the Swing University educational program.
In a 2021 interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Schaap discussed his work in building audiences for jazz: “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.... I teach listening.”
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, Rutgers University, and in the graduate school at Juilliard. Schaap also conducted and collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with jazz legends. He hosted two shows on WKCR, Bird Flight and Traditions in Swing, six days a week, and shared some of his jazz historical research on his website.
More information on Phil Schaap, including a podcast interview and a video tribute, can be found at arts.gov.
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