'Dean of Jazz' Celebrates 25th Year on WKCR

Photograph: Phil Schaap, right, with jazz great Earle Warren on the occasion of Warren's 71st birthday broadcast on WKCR, July 1, 1985. Photo Credit: Nancy Miller Elliott.

Thursday, Feb. 2, marked the 25th anniversary of the first WKCR broadcast by the "Dean of Jazz," Phil Schaap, who continues to educate listeners and students during his programs "Out to Lunch," "Traditions in Swing," and "Birdflight," his forum for scholarship on Charlie Parker.

Schaap began collecting jazz records at age 6 by buying used 78's from Triboro Records in Queens, where he was born and raised. Years later, as a freshman at Columbia, he volunteered his services at WKCR. After a flawless disc jockey audition, Schaap went on the air at 7:00 P.M., Feb. 2, 1970, and has been broadcasting the greats and near-greats of jazz ever since.

How comprehensive is Schaap's knowledge of jazz and how quickly did he become known as a gifted expert? As a sophomore at Columbia and only 19 years old, he was hired by the university as a guest lecturer.

Schaap is largely responsible for WKCR's historic emphasis on jazz and he has also colored the station's unique form by inventing the "festival" (events which pre-empt all regular programming to concentrate on one artist or theme). He has also pioneered and hosted live broadcast shows from Birdland and the West End Gate.

Schaap said he's been fortunate to have had such a long tenure at WKCR. "The station's devotion to providing the New York listening area with jazz and other cultural programming is a continuing achievement of WKCR and an ongoing gift of Columbia to New York."

Called a "New York landmark" by Newsday and an "important part of the fabric" of the city by the New York Post, Schaap's contributions to jazz go beyond radio broadcasting.

He has remastered and researched countless recordings for Polygram Records, where has worked since 1984, including the Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker box sets for which he has won three Grammys. Schaap's production of the Parker box sets, in conjunction with his daily program "Birdflight," has established him as a leading scholar of the musician's work.

In garnering recognition for the legends of jazz, Schaap managed West End jazz booking throughout the 1970s, and brought there the rejuvenated talents of artists such as Sammy Price and Eddie Durham.

During the 1980s he also managed the Countsmen, a combo of Basie-ites who recorded and performed swing.

He also continues to spread the sound of jazz in his teaching at Princeton and Rutgers.

WKCR honored Schaap with a six-day jazz festival from Jan. 30 through Feb. 3. Follow-up programming on Schaap's anniversary continues through the month of February with historical rebroadcasts during his regularly scheduled shows.

For more schedule information, call WKCR at 854-5225.

Columbia University Record -- February 10, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 16