New Yorker profiles history major turned jazz obsessive





Every weekday for the past twenty-seven years, a long-in-the-tooth history major named Phil 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.”

For Schaap, Bird not only lives; he is the singular genius of mid-century American music, a dynamo of virtuosity, improvisation, harmony, velocity, and feeling, and no aspect of his brief career is beneath consideration. Schaap’s discursive monologues on a single home recording—say, “the Bob Redcross acetate” of Parker playing in the early nineteen-forties over the Benny Goodman Quartet’s 1937 hit “Avalon”—can go on for an entire program or more, blurring the line between exhaustive and exhausting. There is no getting to the end of Charlie Parker, and sometimes there is no getting to the end of “Bird Flight.” The program is the anchor of WKCR’s daily schedule and begins at eight-twenty. It is supposed to conclude at nine-forty. In the many years that I’ve been listening, I’ve rarely heard it end precisely as scheduled. Generations of Columbia d.j.s whose programs followed Schaap’s have learned to stand clutching an album of the early Baroque or nineteenth-century Austrian yodelling and wait patiently for the final chorus of “I’ll Always Love You Just the Same.”...


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