Compelling Profile Of A Compulsive

Remnick.jpgAfter David Remnick took command as editor of The New Yorker in 1998, he curtailed the late Whitney Balliett’s contributions to the magazine, relegated him to writing about celebrities like Barbra Streisand and eventually dropped the pre-eminent jazz writer altogether. Characteristically, Balliett kept quiet about the slight, but he was hurt and humiliated. In their fury, some of his devoted readers unsubscribed and never forgave Remnick. The editor himself is a gifted writer. The Balliettomanes may be somewhat mollified by Remnick’s piece about a voluble eccentric dedicated to making people understand and appreciate jazz. The first sentence of Remnick’s profile of Phil Schaap in the May 19th issue of The New Yorker is almost as long as a Charlie Parker solo and perfectly captures Schaap’s magnificent fixation.

Every weekday for the past twenty-seven years, a long-in-the-tooth history major named
Schaap.jpgPhil Schaap has hosted a morning program on WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station, called “Bird Flight,” which places a degree of attention on the music of the bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker that is so obsessive, so ardent and detailed, that Schaap frequently sounds like a mad Talmudic scholar who has decided that the laws of humankind reside not in the ancient Babylonian tractates but in alternate takes of “Moose the Mooche” and “Swedish Schnapps.”

The article illuminates Schaap’s obsessive-compulsive persona, his exhaustive–and exhausting–knowledge of jazz, and the status of the music American culture owes so much and appreciates so little. To read Remnick’s profile of Schaap, go here. At the bottom of the online pages is an audio player, giving you the opportunity to listen to Schaap ruminating his way through a substantial portion of one of his broadcasts.

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  1. George Ziskind says

    I just phoned congrats to Phil. Also, I wanted to apprise him of today’s Rifftides and said “You probably don’t have any time to read blogs, right?” to which he replied, “George, I don’t hardly have time to brush my teeth.”

  2. says

    I didn’t know that’s what happened to Balliett. That’s too bad. And what about Nat Hentoff? But last year the Crouch piece on Sonny Rollins was good to get, as was the recent piece on Ornette. I suppose David thought he needed to reach out to the younger listeners, so he brought in Nick Hornby to do pieces on pop music, but Nick has given way to Sasha. I seldom have listened to what Sasha’s talking about, but I do read him, but I’ve shown Sasha to my son, and he knows what Sasha’s talking about, and it’s got him reading the New Yorker, so maybe there’s some payoff to Remnick’s strategy. I would like to see a piece on Bill Frisell, or Jack DeJohnette. Both we saw at Portland’s Alladin, and Jack, at the end of long set, sang Jim Pepper’s “Witchi Tai To.” What a concert that was!

  3. Jack Kenny says

    Phil Schaap as producer messed up on the Columbia/Legacy CD version of Such Sweet Thunder. Bill Berry writes of the tune “Up and Down, Up and Down (I Will Lead Them Up and Down),” ” Clark Terry’s trumpet pronounces Puck’s famous quotation from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘Lord what fools these mortals be.'” The version on most recent CD, unfortunately, is an alternative take with a different ending. It’s hard to imagine that Schaap did not know the original . The only explanation for his error is incompetence in leaving off one of the best known moments in the suite. Cultural vandalism?
    Rifftides is the best jazz journalism on the internet.
    Jack Kenny
    Cambridge, UK