Phil Schaap (1951-2021)

It is with great sadness that I report the death yesterday of Phil Schaap. (1) Among people who are serious about the history of jazz, Phil was a giant. His knowledge was seemingly endless. Minutiae about jazz musicians and events from decades past was summoned at a moment’s notice from his fertile mind in even the most casual conversation, to be discussed, debated and dissected.

Phil Schaap in the Rose Theater in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in Manhattan – May 2013.

I got a lot of information from him when he would recall a specific date, and an event that happened on that date. Once, when discussing arranger and bandleader Van Alexander, he pieced together for me why he knew that Van Alexander, not Benny Carter, wrote the arrangement Chick Webb and His Orchestra recorded on George Gershwin’s song “Liza.” Our colloquy about that can be revisited in the piece I wrote about Phil several years ago. A link to that is below at (2). A link to the post at on Chick Webb’s recording of “Liza” also is provided below. (3)

I loved to engage Phil about Charlie Parker, because there was, seemingly, nothing he didn’t know about Bird. He discussed Bird’s ulcers with me more than once, and each time, he taught me something. In recognition of Phil’s boundless admiration for Charlie Parker, I am including two links to performances by Bird from the swingandbeyond archive. (4)

One winter afternoon when I was in New York, I stopped by Phil’s office at Jazz at Lincoln Center. We talked for a bit, and then he suggested that we slip out the back door, and step across the street to Gabriel’s restaurant and bar, and have a taste. We enjoyed several cocktails as the afternoon ebbed and dusk descended. Phil was no more (or less) inspired when he was drinking. He was always inspired when he was talking about jazz and jazz musicians. I, along with many others, am privileged to be a beneficiary of a tiny amount of his knowledge. (Above left: Phil Schaap and me in 2013.)


(1) Here is a link to the article in the New York Times September 8, 2021, reporting Phil’s death and summarizing his life:

(2) Here is a link to the piece I wrote about Phil Schaap. I had a tape recorder with me when we spoke, otherwise, I would not have been able to keep up with what he was saying. I transcribed my interview with him as the basis for the article.

(3) Here is a link to the story and music on Chick Webb’s recording of “Liza”:

(4) The first link below is to Charlie Parker’s “Parker’s Mood.” The second is one of Bird’s earlier recordings, when he was a member of Jay McShann’s band. It is called “Swingmatism.”

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