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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the February 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Jazz on Both Sides of Ivy-Covered Walls

Phil Schaap is passionate about jazz. So passionate

that, over the years, he has been able to turn his avocation into

his vocation. Schaap, for the past decade a visiting professor at

Princeton University, will lecture on one of jazz music’s most important

composers on Saturday, February 8, at Richardson Auditorium, as part

of Princeton’s Jazz Winter Weekend. Schaap will give a talk on "The

Music of Charles Mingus," prior to Saturday evening’s concert

by the Mingus Big Band, a group created by the late bassist’s widow.

Mingus, born in 1922 in Arizona, was raised in the Watts section of

Los Angeles. He is best known for his compositions "The Black

Saint and the Sinner Lady" and "Meditations on Integration."

Unlike so many other jazz musicians of the 1940s and ’50s, Mingus

was not afraid to write politically-charged songs. He wrote "Fables

of Faubus" for the Arkansas governor who tried to keep Little

Rock schools segregated in the 1950s, as well as compositions with

titles like "Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On

Me" and "Remember Rockefeller at Attica."

In the jazz world, Mingus had the distinction of being the only man

Ellington ever fired from his big band, and that experience provided

the inspiration for Mingus, at varying stages of his life, to form

his own big band. Sadly, unlike Ellington, he never had much success

with his band. He died in 1979 in Mexico after a career rebirth that

included working on an album with pop-folk singer Joni Mitchell.

Since 1989 Schaap — who may be best known for his

work as a radio host on WKCR-FM, the radio station of Columbia University

— has won eight Grammy awards for his work as a reissue producer,

liner notes author, and audio engineer. The boxed sets he has overseen

and won Grammy awards for include "Bird: The Complete Charlie

Parker on Verve," "Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on

Verve," "Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five Recordings,"

and "The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings of Miles Davis and

Gil Evans."

"These are all massive, multi-CD boxed sets," Schaap says

from his full-time job as curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He explains

he got the job as a visiting professor in the American Studies Department

at Princeton University in 1992.

"My first two years at Princeton I was still teaching graduate

classes at Rutgers," he explains, "but in 1991, Cornel West

called me. He didn’t know me from Adam, and he said that people in

his department said I should come down and do, he actually said, `a

prestigious lecture’ for him.

"Anyway, Cornel West booked me for a lecture a year and a half

in advance," Schaap explains, "and the reason why it’s so

special to me is because I do a lot of work in front of people who’ve

known me for decades. After the lecture, Arnold Rampersad, who was

then head of the American Studies department at Princeton, said he

wanted me to teach a senior seminar at Princeton. He didn’t know me

from Adam, either, but attended because it was a Cornel West production,"

Schaap explains.

Since the early ’90s, Schaap has taught a variety of courses on jazz,

sometimes working with old colleagues from Rutgers to draw on their

expertise. This semester he is teaching "Bebop."

The Jazz Festival Weekend will include a Friday night performance

by a noted Princeton University alumnus, guitarist Stanley Jordan

’81, and an invitational performance by area high school jazz bands

on Saturday afternoon. Event judges will include trumpeter Michael

Phillip Mossman and saxophonist Ralph Bowen, both associated with

Rutgers’ jazz program, and Anthony D.J. Branker of Princeton’s Jazz

program.

"The Princeton program is the oldest American Studies program

at any college in the U.S., and Rampersad and Sean Wilentz [Rampersad

is now at Stanford University and historian Sean Wilentz is chair

of American Studies at Princeton] both understand the essential-ness

of jazz as part of American Studies," Schaap says. "Princeton

University has been very nice to me and has treated me better than

any other employer. When I won the Grammy in 2001, they put me on

the cover page of the Princeton University website."

While he freely admits he was shuffling and scuffling for many years

because of all of his volunteer hours on WKCR-FM, Schaap, now 51,

finds he’s able to make a living in the jazz business.

"Middle age has given me a good opportunity to get some good entry-level

positions," Schaap says, laughing. At Jazz at Lincoln Center,

he oversees the Jazz Hall of Fame that will be in Lincoln Center’s

new jazz-only performance venue on Columbus Circle.

"It’s been my baby to write the biographies for the inductees

and gather the materials for it as well," he says. "I started

an adult education program here at Jazz at Lincoln Center and it’s

been a fairly successful program," he adds.

Schaap can be heard on weekday mornings on WKCR, 89.9 FM, from 8:20

a.m. to 9:30 a.m., on Monday afternoons from noon to 3 p.m., and on

Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. However, since the Trade Center

attacks of September 11, 2001, WKCR’s transmitter was moved to a less

desirable location and its signal is not what it once was in central

New Jersey.

Schaap got hooked on jazz music as a seven-year-old, growing up in

Hollis, Queens. His mother was a chief librarian at the Jamaica Public

Library in Queens, and his father worked writing scripts for educational

films. Both were avid jazz fans who left the jazz business in the

late 1940s for the more stable income provided in the education field.

How does he explain the now-admirable position he finds himself in,

dividing his time between Princeton University, Jazz at Lincoln Center,

and WKCR-FM’s uptown studios?

"When I was 50, I cobbled together a career," he explains.

"I was always doing four or five things. Now I’ve given up all

classroom teaching except Princeton and I gave up the record business

reissue stuff to do the Jazz at Lincoln Center business. Basically,

I would say I’ve put my eggs in the educational basket. That it took

30 years to do it doesn’t make me so lucky."

"My luck was that I met these jazz musicians who were my idols

as a child, because they all moved to Hollis, Queens. They were able

to give me an education that is now unavailable, and which I’ve chosen

to spend the balance of my time trying to convey to people who weren’t

fortunate enough to be raised by people like [trumpeter] Roy Eldridge,"

he says.

Schaap recalls his early teen years in Hollis in the

1960s, frequently visiting the houses of such greats as Eldridge,

Jaki Byard, Lester Young, Milt Hinton, Buck Clayton, Bud Johnson,

and Lenny Tristano. He says some people from the blues world, like

blind harmonica player Sonny Terry and blind guitarist Reverend Gary

Davis, lived even closer.

"When I played whiffle-ball at Glenn Gisseck’s house, I used to

hit a home run into Sonny Terry’s yard. I’d hop over the fence to

get the ball, and they’d all say, `Aren’t you afraid he’s going to

see you?’ I’d say, no, ’cause they didn’t know who Sonny Terry was."

It’s difficult to hear Schaap on the radio or in person without being

swept up in his enthusiasm for jazz music. At his lecture Schaap will

cover the basics of Mingus’ life and times and his place in jazz and

American music history. Mingus also lived for a time in New York,

and sure enough, Schaap befriended the bassist there.

"I’m going to tell people about Mingus’ background, his astuteness

about jazz’s sources, the blues and the church music connection, and

the Ellington connection. But the strongest connection to him was

when he discovered bebop via Charlie Parker. Mingus never had the

economic clout to carry a big band with him like Duke Ellington did,"

he says.

"This concert is organized by his widow and it’s a posthumous

recognition. It’s the big band that Mingus always wanted to have."

— Richard J. Skelly

Jazz Winter Weekend, Princeton University Concerts,

Richardson Auditorium, 609-258-5000. Princeton Concert Jazz Ensemble

followed at 8:30 p.m. by Stanley Jordan, Princeton 1981, on electric

guitar. $17 to $26; students $2. Friday, February 7, 7:30 p.m.

Mingus Big Band, Princeton University Concerts,

Richardson Auditorium, 609-258-5000. Mingus Big Band master class

at 4 p.m. Lecture with Phil Schaap at 7 p.m., and Mingus Big Band

show at 8 p.m. $17 to $26; students $2. Saturday, February 8, 4

and 8 p.m.


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