Photo by the late Ed Berger
I write with a heavy heart today after learning of the passing of the great Phil Schaap, who was among many things, a historian, record producer, jazz archivist, radio DJ, and collector of all the world’s most obscure knowledge all contained within his photographic memory. I first encountered the name Phil Schaap in one of my favorite childhood books Charlie Parker Played Bebop. That book was among the first that I “learned” to read (more likely that I memorized it after the many times my mom would read it to me) and little did I know that, the man who that book was dedicated to would in a few years be one of the people at Jazz at Lincoln Center who I greatly admired.
It seemed like there wasn’t a topic Phil didn’t know something about. I would spend hours as a child picking his brain about anything that came to mind, and as I grew, so did the conversations. He would tell stories of his encounters with the pantheon of jazz greats throughout his career in picture perfect detail all the way down to the apartment number on their addresses. He would engage me in historical conversation about weighty topics such as World War II or the CIA assassination of the Patrice Lumumba. He would never condescend or speak down to me, he always treated me as an equal that would understand all of what he said, even if I didn’t fully grasp it all. Phil would frequently greet me and my father by our names followed by our birthdays flexing his photographic memory, and every year on my birthday, Phil would give me a shout out on his radio show and would later begin sending me an email as well with a witty messaged and personalized sign-off. The first email I received from him in 2011 read:
Dear Not So Little Wynton,
No matter how old you get, I will hold a place for you in my classroom.
Yours in Wanda Landowska and Donald Lambert,
No matter how old I get, I will never forget about the classroom of life that would spontaneously materialize in his presence nor will I forget one of the people who most encouraged and indulged my pursuit of knowledge. You will be missed.