Like, Wow Man

Oh, this is just a great, wonderful profile of a vitally important American, one who is essentially unknown and who’s probably doomed to failure. So, please be patient with Phil Schaap.

I’ve been listening to Phil for more than 20 years now, even in San Francisco – thanks to Wherever you are, remember he’s on the air weekdays starting at 8:20 am EST, brining you the music of Charlie Parker. And talking about it, in obsessive detail and often at obsessive length. Remnick captures this fascinating/maddening quality extremely well.

There’s other stuff too. Phil Schaap had an eating contest with Rahsaan Roland Kirk? Wha . . . ? Sun Ra grabbed him so that Phil could tell Sunny about the facts of his own life before giving a lecture on himself at Harvard? Holy . . . ! Phil is beyond hip.

Phil is a true conservative in an important and admirable sense. He is conserving parts of the past that are essential to the character and understanding of America, that are some of the best parts of this country. Unlike certain self-regarding, narcissistic, ignorant, racist ass-holes, he is actually standing athwart history and yelling “Stop!” He is doing so with his time, his physical and mental effort, and his humanity. As best he can, he is not just keeping the music but the musicians themselves alive. That he’s not getting much help demonstrates that not many “Americans” think much of America itself.

I’ve been collecting the production of Phil’s work since this set first came out. I remember listening to “Bird Flight” one morning in Brooklyn and hearing stunning rehearsal takes of a quintet featuring Monk, stuff where you could hear the inventions being put together in real-time. I had heard a lot of Charlie Parker but nothing like this, so I called the studio. Phil answered the phone and told me it was discs and tapes he had found and had just been up all night remastering! Like, wow, man. The story that says it all is him using Wite-Outⓡ to repair eight – 8! – miles of paper-backed audio tape. That masterwork, the production of that labor, is available here.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.